Final salute to Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski

May 9, 2008 8:36:30 PM PDT
The applause thundered through the cathedral Friday as hundreds of people mourned a Philadelphia police officer killed in the line of duty - and rooted for his favorite team. "Let's go Flyers, let's go!" (Clap-clap-clap!)

The cheer for the city's hockey club came toward the end of the funeral Mass for Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski. It was led with a smile by his oldest son, Matt, who wanted to share his father's enthusiasm for the Flyers before that night's playoff game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Stephen Liczbinski, a 12-year veteran of the police force, was fatally shot Saturday as he responded to a bank robbery. Two suspects are in custody; one was killed by police in a post-robbery chase.

Mourners stood in a block-long line in the pouring rain outside the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul to pay their respects to Liczbinski. A horse-drawn caisson had traveled about a mile through city streets before dawn to bring his casket from police headquarters to the church.

During the service, Matt Liczbinski described his dad as a simple man who didn't ask for much. He spoke of how much he respected his dad, and related an observation a friend shared with him the night before.

"You were the only 24-year-old kid I knew who ... still thought his dad could beat up every other guy's dad in the whole world," the friend had told him.

It was true, said Liczbinski. "That's how I felt about my dad."

The sergeant's passion for the Philadelphia Flyers was clear even before his son led the cheer: his casket's lining bore the team emblem, and a jersey and flower arrangement in the shape of the logo were displayed nearby before the Mass.

Hundreds of police officers and members of the public attended the service, both inside the cathedral and outside, where tents and a large video screen were set up.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told mourners that Liczbinski's death "represents the kind of heroism that takes place throughout the country every single day by the men and women in uniform."

"Steve is not a hero in my mind because of how he died," Ramsey said. "He's a hero because many years ago he made the decision, he answered a call, he knew that he wanted to help others. ... He chose to become a police officer."

Liczbinski died three days before his 40th birthday. He is survived by his wife, Michelle, and three children, Matt, Steve and Amber. Matt and his wife, Bridget, are expecting their first child.

Liczbinski was buried in Resurrection Cemetery in Bensalem.