COLUMBUS - Police officers and firefighters from Southwest Ohio clustered alongside Interstate 71 on Friday and saluted Ronald Jeter as he made his way home.
One week and 124 miles away from the Clifton Heights neighborhood where he was gunned down by a domestic violence suspect, Cincinnati Police Specialist Jeter was mourned and buried in his hometown.
The tragedy of Spc. Jeter's death turned into a celebration of his life as mourners remembered him and his partner, Officer Daniel Pope. It also was a time for believers to cheer the men's new lives with God.
''We are here to celebrate (Spc. Jeter's) homegoing because he is in a far better place,'' clergyman Dennis Wade said during Friday's funeral service at Rhema Christian Center, a non-denominational church.
The rousing stand-and-rejoice service, complete with gospel music and dancing, contrasted with Wednesday's solemn Catholic funeral for Officer Pope, also killed Dec. 6. The partners were shot to death by Alonzo Davenport in his Clifton Heights apartment. Mr. Davenport killed himself minutes later.
Five busloads of police officers from Cincinnati as well as hundreds from surrounding suburbs caravaned up I-71 for the final farewell to Spc. Jeter.
The Loveland-Symmes Township Fire Department parked a ladder truck near Kings Island with its ladder pointed up, symbolizing a stairway to heaven.
''Oh, God bless them,'' several officers said as their bus passed by the truck.
Motorists along the route stepped out of their cars to watch as the funeral procession, stretching 10 miles, made its way from Cincinnati to Columbus.
Neighbors of the Rhema Christian Center greeted the procession with signs, including one that read: ''God speed Officer Jeter.'' About 1,200 mourners packed the church's sanctuary, basement and small chapel. Others spilled outside the church.
Police from as far away as London, England, and the District of Columbia joined others from throughout Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. In a sanctuary that doubles as a basketball court, some were moved to tearful outbursts. Others - especially Spc. Jeter's mother, Brenda - swayed to the sounds of the musicians. Smiling throughout the service, she rocked back and forth, waving her arms and singing ''Hallelujah'' as her son was eulogized. She was not alone.
The procession was 10 miles long on I-71.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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Although quiet at first, the crowd eventually joined in the toe-tapping songs of celebration with lyrics such as ''Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the light.''
At one point during the two-hour service, Elder Tyus Nedd, church pastor, asked the crowd to stand, hold up their arms and pledge to be a hero like 34-year-old Spc. Jeter, of Oakley.
Early in the service, several of Spc. Jeter's friends took to the flower-covered stage and recalled ''Ron's'' life.
Friend and minister the Rev. Craig Collins remembered Spc. Jeter as a teen in the '''hood,'' where his name was purposely mispronounced as ''Jetter.''
''Jetter used to get on my mother's nerves,'' the Rev. Mr. Collins said, remembering Spc. Jeter's boisterous greetings. ''He'd be a rebel.''
The Rev. Mr. Collins' voice boomed in the cavernous church as he encouraged mourners to reach out to God in a time of loss.
''In the midnight hour, sister, when it gets lonely, call on God,'' he said, addressing Spc. Jeter's sobbing girlfriend, Sonya Zanders. The crowd greeted his comments with a chorus of ''Amen.''
Officer Finnis Bonner asked fellow Cincinnati police officers to stand for Spc. Jeter's mother.
''Mrs. Collier, I want you to know, 100 miles south of here you've got friends,'' he said. He also comforted mourners by telling them it was Spc. Jeter's time to go.
''Ron got a call from God, and he said, 'Ron, it's time to come on home,' '' Officer Bonner said.
''He's smiling down on us now.''
Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Police Chief Michael Snowden also spoke briefly, expressing their condolences and praising Spc. Jeter's legacy.
Alicia Hall of Columbus and daughter, Aurora, 3, wave to police cars as the procession passes her house.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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''Whenever God closes a door, he opens a window of healing,'' Chief Snowden said.
The chief also read a poem that hangs in his office. He said the poem reminds him of his son, who died in a car accident in 1991.
Concluding the church service, honor guards handed Mrs. Collier her son's white police cap as they closed the shiny hunter-green casket. Green was his favorite color.
Spc. Jeter's 9-year-old daughter, Brittany, placed the hat on her head and cried as the procession left for the cemetery.
About 4:15 p.m., cars began streaming into Evergreen Cemetery - a process that took nearly 25 minutes to complete.
Bag pipes preceded the honor guard, then officers in their dress blues and white hats carried the casket into a tent where the service was held.
Heavy on symbolism, it included a moment of silence as the riderless horse passed by, a 21-gun salute by Cincinnati police and the playing of taps.
With about 1,000 officers looking on, the Rev. Nedd choked back tears as he delivered the eulogy.
Spc. Jeter's mother, Brenda Jeter-Collier, and his brother, Bobby (Bert) Slocum, look up at Chief Michael Snowden after receiving the flag.
(Gary Landers photo)
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''My tears are tears of joy,'' he said. ''Tears of hope, not of despair, they are tears of remembrance of a hero, of a model.''
Mrs. Collier sat stoically throughout the service, but wiped away tears as Chief Snowden presented her with the flag that had been draped over her son's casket just moments before.
A small band of police recruits volunteered to direct traffic and perform other functions so more senior officers could take part in the service.
Lt. Tim Schoch, a 30-year veteran, said the younger officers are holding up well.
''Every day that goes by, they talk about it a little bit more,'' he said. ''But you never really understand it.
''I've been doing this 30 years, and I don't understand it.''
Sandy Theis contributed to this report.