Published: 06.11.2008

'He was the perfect father and the perfect man'
Thousands give final salute to heroic police officer
By Alexis Huicochea, Philip Haldiman and Dan Sorenson
Tributes to a fallen officer
Sign a guest book in remembrance of TPD Officer Erik Hite
Slain Tucson police Officer Erik Hite was buried Tuesday afternoon to the mournful sounds of bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace," and a 21-gun salute.
Thousands of people turned out to pay their last respects to Hite — from public safety officers in crisp uniforms who joined his family and friends at an East Side church to ordinary citizens standing solemnly under a scorching sun along the funeral route to the cemetery.
But in services that were filled with formality and tradition befitting a fallen officer, it was the simple words of a grieving son who talked about his dad — "my best friend" — that resonated inside the somber church.
"He always knew what was right — what was the right thing to do, the right thing to say and the right way to act," Roy Hite told mourners. "He always stuck with me. He was the perfect father and the perfect man. He means the world to me; he was the world to me."
Officer Hite, a four-year police veteran, was shot June 1 during a crosstown pursuit of a man with a rifle. He died the following day. He was 43.
Emotional eulogies
Tuesday morning, more than 2,000 mourners filled Pantano Christian Church, where Hite was eulogized as a loving family man and a leader. It included slide shows of Hite as he grew up and his time in the Air Force. It featured several family moments, including many photos with his daughter, Samantha, who turned 1 year old a week after her father's death.
Hite's casket arrived at the church with an escort led by dozens of police officers on motorcycles. Bagpipes played as the casket was escorted inside by Tucson police officers, as well as Roy Hite and Roy's wife, Katie, who both serve in the Air Force.
A devoted Christian, Erik Hite was always trying to get his peers to go to church with him, the officer's pastor, Neil Watson said. "Today he received his wish," he added as he addressed mourners who sat in the church and in overflow rooms. "I don't think this is how he envisioned it."
The service, which lasted about two hours, was attended by public-safety officers from across the state, along with federal agents and dignitaries, including Gov. Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Terry Goddard, state Rep. Jonathan Paton and Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup.
It began with a reading of Psalm 23, which begins, "The Lord is my shepherd."
It was followed by a letter to Officer Hite written by his father, Roy Hite, and then a slide show of Hite's life accompanied by music that included Boston's "More Than a Feeling."
In light of his having spent 21 years in the Air Force before joining the Tucson Police Department in 2004, other speakers included Hite's former commander at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Col. Robert Mahood; Tucson Police Chief Richard Miranda; three fellow officers; and a classmate from the police academy.
Mahood described the former master sergeant as "an absolute poster child" for the core values of the Air Force.
Miranda described the events of the day Hite was shot and two Pima County sheriff's deputies were wounded and the scene at the hospital where the officer was clinging to life. He paused often to collect his composure.
Miranda praised members of Hite's family, including the officer's wife, Nohemy, for the strength and love they showed through this ordeal.
"Without hesitation, he ran to that call, ran towards danger. . . . He gave up his life so that others can live free," Miranda said of Hite.
Tucson police Sgt. Robert Garcia recalled riding motorcycles with Hite to Sonoita and stopping at a cafe. Garcia said the pair discussed when they struggled with an armed assailant and how exhausting the fight was.
"Our lives were spared by the grace of God," Garcia said. "So why would God spare our lives one moment and not the next?"
Eric Tobey, a friend of the Hite family, spoke of the officer's devotion to his wife and children.
"I witnessed him as a husband, a father and a man of God," Tobey said. "I remember Erik and Nohemy and you could see the love they had for each other.
"Erik was so proud of Roy (his son) for not giving up, graduating high school and joining the Air Force," Tobey continued. "I remember when Samantha was born; he (Erik) was holding her, telling me how beautiful Samantha is. He held her quite often. The last time I went to their home I was amazed to see Samantha walking. All the time she spent in his arms, I didn't know if she'd ever learn."
Napolitano presented Hite's wife with the flag that was flown at half-staff at the state Capitol on June 2.
People line funeral route
Following the church service, the burial began later than scheduled due largely to a miles-long motorcade, led by more than 200 motorcycle officers from across the state and hundreds of Police Department and Fire Department vehicles.
Hundreds of people lined the funeral route. Many stood at attention; some saluted, while others held their hands over their hearts. Many held signs in honor of Hite; some waved American flags.
The last cars had just left the church as the hearse made its way into East Lawn Palms Cemetery on East Grant Road near Craycroft, at the other end of the nearly 11-mile route.
The graveside service, in the corner of the rambling grassy cemetery with the Santa Catalina Mountains as a background, was full of military and police ritual.
Nearby, a mounted squad of 12 officers and horses accompanied Ace, a riderless horse with rear-facing boots in his stirrups. Later, Ace would be led graveside by Marana police Officer Ed Muszala.
Following eulogies in English and Spanish, Air Force and Tucson police ceremonial rifle teams alternated volleys in the traditional salute.
Police honor guard trumpeters Detective John Dover and Officer Bernie LoBaido echoed each other sounding taps.
LoBaido said earlier that playing at this funeral service would be difficult: "I knew Erik, but I know I can do it."
Thirteen helicopters that had been hovering in the distance did a flyby. The group included the private medical helicopter that took Hite to University Medical Center after he was shot, said police spokesman Sgt. Mark Robinson.
The flag covering Hite's coffin was folded by an Air Force detail and presented to Miranda. The outgoing police chief then presented it to Hite's wife.
A public-address system played what is known as "the last radio call"— a simulated police radio transmission that is a traditional sendoff for a fallen officer.
James Hemersbach, a volunteer police dispatcher who was on duty when Hite was shot, called, "Four-Adam-three-seven. Four-Adam-three-seven," Hite's radio call sign. Several seconds of silence followed.
After a few more seconds, Hemersbach said, "Officer Erik Hite is out of service. He may be gone, but he will never be forgotten."
Doves were released and fluttered to the east, over the grave, and a solo bagpiper played "Danny Boy."
In addition to his wife, son and daughter, Hite is survived by his parents, Roy and Mary Jane Hite; his birth mother, Patsy Hansen; his sisters, Nevada Benton and Royleen Mahie; and his brother, Sean Hite.
Tributes to a fallen officer
Sign a guest book in remembrance of TPD Officer Erik Hite
● Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at 629-9412 or