Blanketed by the comfort of a massive American flag draped between two fire truck ladders outside Everett’s Comcast Arena, people came simply to say “thank you.”
Lacey firefighter Jim Dickson stood shoulder to shoulder in tribute with about a dozen fellow war vets, all members of Patriot Guard Riders. Dickson said he felt helpless seeing a young woman widowed and her children left without a father. So, he did the only thing he could.
“I can’t imagine what she’s going through,” he said, choking back tears. “All we can do is show our honor and our respect for Trooper O’Connell and for the Washington State Patrol family.”
The symbolism of the procession to the funeral was rich and evocative. The sound of bagpipes and the vision of a riderless horse stopped people in their tracks along Hewitt Avenue on the warm, sunny afternoon. The wounds were still fresh as State Patrol Chief John Batiste escorted O’Connell’s widow and her children into the service.
“It only gets harder each time I have to tell a family their loved on isn't coming home," Batiste said. “The tough thing is looking family members in the eye and telling them you're sorry, because you know it isn't going to ease their pain.”
Batiste said he, the trooper's widow, children and family are finding peace in learning about the impact Sean O’Connell had on all those around him. People have been sharing stories of instant friendships.
“It's wonderful to see how everybody loved him too,” said family friend Denise Lowber. “But it's tough. It's a huge loss.”
It’s especially tough for Trooper O'Connell's fellow motorcycle cops, a special brotherhood within the WSP family. They wore black arm bands with the trooper’s radio number, 1076, as they filed stoically out of the service. O’Connell’s widow bent over her husband’s casket for one final goodbye.
Jim Dickson had a message for her and all those who loved Sean O’Connell.
“Know that everyone out here cares," he said. "We all care and we all feel very deeply their loss.”
Fifty members of the O'Connell family attended the service, with hundreds of civilian spectators and police from as far away as Texas. They say they plan to honor Sean by doing their best to live up to the standard that he set as a husband, father, son and trooper.