Long Branch honors fallen police officer

Post office renamed for police sergeant killed while on duty

By Sherry conohan
Staff Writer

By Sherry conohan
Staff Writer

CHRIS KELLY Maureen King, wife of fallen police officer Pat King, receives a flag during the dedication ceremony at the Third Avenue post office on Saturday. The post office was renamed the Pat King Post Office.CHRIS KELLY Maureen King, wife of fallen police officer Pat King, receives a flag during the dedication ceremony at the Third Avenue post office on Saturday. The post office was renamed the Pat King Post Office.

They came from places like West Windsor and Wall, East Windsor and Edison, Vernon Township and Ocean Township, Plainfield, Roseland and Fair Lawn, Union County and Monmouth County. And, of course, Long Branch.

The chevrons on their shirtsleeves told the story.

Law enforcement officers from throughout the state gathered in Long Branch Saturday, some 300 strong, to once again honor slain police Sgt. Pat King, this time at the renaming of the city’s post office in his memory.

Rep. Frank J. Pallone Jr., D-6, who sponsored the legislation in Congress effecting the name change, said it was a celebratory rather than a mournful occasion as King’s funeral was, when police officers last gathered to honor him.

"Even though it’s five years later after him being killed, and even though this is a solemn occasion, we have to celebrate a life," Pallone said. "We have to celebrate Pat as a hero and what it means to us today, not just that he was killed, but how significant his life was for this community and as an example for the rest of the police force and America as a whole."

King, the police force’s most decorated officer even though he was only 45, was shot by a career criminal who was set on killing a police officer on Nov. 20, 1997. He had been named policeman of the year three times.

Pallone, whose congressional district includes Long Branch and who lives in the city, said some people had asked him why the post office was being dedicated to King — what does it have to do with him?

"As some of you know, I’m into history, particularly the history of Long Branch and the Jersey coast," he said, as he stood in front of the building on Third Avenue. "This is a very historic building, a beautiful building. But more than that, it’s a community building, and when I think of Pat, I think of all the things he did for the community and how he was such an example for Long Branch and for everyone. It’s a place where we all come.

"It’s not just a building that’s old, that has character, but also a building where people meet and talk and converse about their lives," he added.

Noting that his own father also had been a sergeant on the Long Branch police force, Pallone said that when he was a child he always worried when his father put on his uniform and took his gun out of the drawer to go to work that he would be in danger and maybe wouldn’t come back.

"The bottom line is that police officers every day risk their lives for all of us," he said. "It’s important, not only for Pat’s memory, that people understand that heroes, if you will, are willing to give their lives, the ultimate sacrifice, so that other people in the community can be safe. That’s what Pat King is all about. He did sacrifice his life for this community."

Mayor Adam Schneider said the tribute in renaming the post office was a small measure of gratitude, not just to King, but to King’s mother, wife, children and other family members including his brother Kevin, who’s on the Long Branch police force, but also to all other officers who previously served in Long Branch, those serving today and those who want to be police officers. He said that the tribute should extend beyond those serving in the city of Long Branch to all police officers throughout the country.

Schneider said he was attending a League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City when he got word of King’s shooting and death.

"The thought of what had happened was more than I could truly comprehend," he recalled. "I never had known anybody who had been murdered. It was a police officer from my city and it was a man that I knew. More than that, I knew his mother. I knew his mother before I knew Pat."

"When I heard that the murderer killed himself, the thought that went through my mind was ‘good. We’ll never have to deal with him again,’ " he said.

Schneider said he will never forget the scenes he saw in the next few days.

"Perhaps the most memorable was walking out of St. Mike’s Church," he said. "It was a bitter cold morning in November, and I looked to the left to the north and to the south, and as far as I could see on Ocean Avenue was a sea of blue — police officers from as far as New England to the north and as far south as Virginia, and maybe further," who had come to show their support.

Vito J. Cetta, district manager and the executive in charge of the U.S. Postal Service central New Jersey district, said King was not killed because of who he was.

"He was a loving and dedicated husband and father. He was selfless and dedicated public servant," Cetta said. "His life was taken by a deranged and depraved individual because he wore a police officer’s uniform."

The gunman shot King from behind when he spotted the officer in his uniform and then turned the gun on himself.

"Sgt. King represented law and order," Cetta said. "He stood for all that is good and heroic in mankind."

Lt. Joseph Aflitto, who was King’s partner on the police force, recalled that they both came to the Long Branch Police Department in 1976. He noted an officer can spend more time with their partner than with their family.

"Given this, one would hope that that person, their partner, will be someone with whom they share mutual admiration, respect and, above all, trust, because your life may depend on it," he said. "I was blessed on all counts. Pat was not only an ideal partner, he grew to become an ideal friend.

"I had the honor of being godfather to Pat’s older son, Patrick Joseph, and I know Pat would be proud to see the fine young men that Patrick and Todd turned out to be," he said.

Aflitto said he looked up the word "hero" in the dictionary and found it read "a man admired for his achievements and honorable qualities."

"By definition," he said, "Pat King was a hero to all of us."

The police officers who turned out for the ceremony marched down Third Avenue from Broadway to the post office. A contingent of officers on motorcycles preceded those on foot, and an honor guard with flags was under the command of Fair Lawn Detective Sgt. Robert Kneer, New Jersey state honor guard commander. Bagpipers from the New Jersey United Pipe Band led the procession. Mary Ann Baumbach, a Port Authority police officer, sang the national anthem at the outset and "Amazing Grace" later.

The speakers, who also included Rep. Rush Holt, D-12; Louis Napoletano, director of public safety for the city; and Long Branch postmaster Dave Basile, made a point of recognizing King’s family who were on hand.

They included King’s widow, Maureen; her daughter, Shannon, 29, from a previous marriage; sons Pat, 16, and Todd, 15; King’s mother, Katherine; his brothers Kevin and Edward; and sisters Maureen and Kathy.

Holt, whose district includes Oceanport where King’s widow lives, said the dedication of the post office to Pat King was also a testament to Maureen.

"She has suffered real grief, but she has not become a victim. She’s not turned that grief inward," he said. "She has taken her grief and turned it into something positive, as an example for all of us. She’s become one of the leading advocates in New Jersey for gun safety and I commend her for that.

"This tribute today is for Pat King, for all law enforcement officers and for Pat’s family members and for all family members of law enforcement officers."

Maureen King thanked everyone for the honor to Pat’s life and career.

"It is my hope that the Pat King Post Office will serve to remember a very special person, genuine and sweet, loved and respected so much by his family, friends and many others, who lived by a sense of honor, a strength of character," she said. King, she said, "by his courage, hard work and dedication fought against the evils in society…for safety, freedom and peace."

King said she also saw it as a prayer for all fallen police officers, in New Jersey and nationwide, "who lost their lives while protecting ours," and for the families they left behind.

"I hope the Pat King Post Office will inspire many to follow Pat’s example of service to others," she said. "And I hope the Pat King Post Office will serve as a reminder of the danger law enforcement officers face each and every day."