Fifth officer in 2008 laid to rest after Mass at Cathedral Basilica

Special to The CS&T

In a ritual and a setting that has become all too familiar, Philadelphia paid its final respects on Monday to another police officer killed in the line of duty.

Sgt. Timothy Simpson, 46, a 20-year member of the force and father of four, was killed Nov. 17 while responding to a robbery when his squad car was rammed by a speeding driver with a history of drug abuse. The suspect faces charges of vehicular homicide.

Simpson was the fifth policeman to be killed in the line of duty in the last 13 months. A member of St. Leo Parish in the Tacony section of Philadelphia, he was also the fifth officer killed in the past year to be buried from the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

Coming just two months after the murder of highway patrolman Patrick McDonald, Sgt. Simpson’s funeral became the latest occasion for an outpouring of grief and remembrance before stricken family members and hundreds of police officers from Philadelphia and neighboring jurisdictions. Scenes of Sgt. Simpson’s life and his family, including his wife, Katherine, and his children, Samantha, Terry, Courtney and Michael, flickered from television monitors inside the Cathedral Basilica. Outside, a giant Jumbotron screen carried the Mass for a large overflow crowd.

With its moving liturgy and intoned rites, the funeral Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Justin Rigali, provided a catharsis for a city numbed by the successive killings of its police officers and weighed down by one of the highest overall murder rates in the nation.

“This department continues to be numb over the tremendous loss of life we have recently suffered,” said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “‘Killed in the line of duty’ is a phrase you should never have to hear.”

Simpson, he said, “was a tremendous police officer, a tremendous human being who served the city and department with honor.” So too, he noted, did Simpson’s father, an original member of the elite Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, and his grandfather. “Since the late 1800s there has always been a member of the Simpson family protecting the lives of Philadelphia’s citizens,” said Ramsey.

Simpson was the second officer to be killed from the 24th District in lower Northeast Philadelphia. His friend and partner, Steven Liczbinski, was gunned down last May while responding to a bank robbery. The other slain officers are Chuck Cassidy (Oct. 31, 2007), Isabel Nazario (Sept. 5, 2008) and Patrick McDonald (Sept. 23, 2008).

Amid the eulogies, the continuing threat of violence against Philadelphia police was not forgotten. In his homily, Cardinal Rigali said the “entire community with the immense energy and goodwill it possesses commits itself to the continuing struggle against violence and evil. But, even as we do this, moved by a sense of true responsibility for our neighborhoods, we acknowledge that our own powers are limited and that we shall succeed only with God’s help.”

Mayor Michael Nutter said Sgt. Simpson was “only doing his duty. We owe so much to Sgt. Simpson and others like him.”

John Gillespie is a member of St. Bridget Parish and former reporter for the Philadelphia Evening & Sunday Bulletin.