In the days since San Marcos police officer Kenneth Copeland died last week, Joe Fratangelo had been identifying himself to others as Copeland’s best friend. College fraternity brothers who later served as police officers together, they’d been friends for 38 years.
“But after speaking with so many of you all,” Fratangelo said at Copeland’s funeral service Wednesday, “it’s obviously a title I’m going to have to share because he made everybody feel that he was their best friend.”
The service at Community Bible Church in San Antonio drew hundreds of mourners, most of them uniformed police officers from jurisdictions across Texas and a few federal agencies, who nearly filled the 3,500-capacity room.
The 58-year-old veteran peace officer and Coast Guard officer was fatally shot Dec. 4 while serving an arrest warrant. His death marks the first time a San Marcos police officer has been killed in the line of duty.
The shooting suspect, Stewart Thomas Mettz, is in the Hays County Jail and has been charged with capital murder.
Before the service, dozens of law enforcement officers, firefighters and civilians gathered along the route from a funeral home in San Marcos to San Antonio to pay their respects and greet a milelong procession escorting Copeland’s body on the hourlong trip.
Jennifer Burton, 41, stood on the top of an Interstate 35 overpass with a “thin blue line” flag: a black and white American flag with a blue stripe through the middle, which is commonly used to honor fallen police officers. She also held a sign with Copeland’s name, the day he was shot and killed, and the letters “E.O.W.” for “end of watch.”
She said she knew Copeland from her job working at an apartment complex in San Marcos. Her husband, Michael, is a police officer in New Braunfels, she said.
“I’m just here to show support,” Burton said. “It’s a police wife’s worst fear.”
On North Loop 1604 West, the road leading to the church in San Antonio, a billboard displayed a photo of Copeland and read, “May God bless you and your family.”
Copeland had served in the San Marcos Police Department for nearly 20 years. He enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1999 and was still serving as an active reservist at the time of his death, according to the service program.
He is survived by his wife, Sheila, and his sons, Nile and Noah, 13-year-old twins, and James and Jonah, 10-year-old twins. A longtime friend, Jeff Caldwell, said Kenneth Copeland was a devoted father and glowed around his four children.
Friends and family at the memorial service shared stories tinged with humor and admiration. They described a kind, generous, carefree man who loved being a police officer.
Ed Newton, lead pastor of Community Bible Church, sought to soothe the grief in the room.
“In the midst of crisis, there’s comfort,” Newton said to Copeland’s family. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life. … Today we come to honor a hero.”
The day Copeland died was his day off, but he had volunteered to work the shift to help the understaffed department, as he often did.
“Ken worked so many overtime shifts, most of us lost track of which patrol shift he was actually assigned to,” Police Chief Chase Stapp said in his eulogy speech. “When I would tell him, ‘Ken, you need to take some time off,’ he would just say, ‘Chase, it’s got to be covered.’”
Bill Glasgow, a retired police officer and pastor of Solid Rock Church in San Marcos, said, “We have indeed lost one of the finest among us.”
“I was recently asked how would you describe Ken Copeland, and the first word that came to my mind was compassionate,” even to those who committed crimes, he said.
He told a story about Copeland that, like many memories shared at the service, drew a welcome laugh from the mourners.
When Glasgow was a commander, he said, he once asked Copeland why he thought it was OK to prop his feet up on the commander’s desk. He recalled Copeland looking up at him with a goofy smile and answering, “Because you love me, sir.”
Many speakers touched on his obsession with Topo Chico. Copeland kept an iced cooler filled with bottles of the mineral water in the back seat of his patrol car, not only for himself but for others he’d meet.
“He’d hand it out left and right. It didn’t matter if you were a homeless person or the chief of police, you were likely to get a bottle of Topo Chico from Ken,” Stapp said. “He could just kind of tell when you needed it.”
Caldwell said without him, “our community will never be the same.” But he offered these words of comfort: “The thing that melts snow is heat, and the thing that melts sadness is love. Like many of you, I loved Ken Copeland and I know he loved me. … I will keep reminding myself that the thing that melts sadness is love.”
During a recessional after the service, there were a series of military funeral honors. Law enforcement officials in rows formed an “Honor Wall” around the family and casket. A bugler played “Taps.” After a 21-gun salute, three San Antonio Police Department helicopters flew over. Bagpipers and drummers played “Amazing Grace.”
Stapp called Copeland for the last time on his radio channel and announced the retiring of his badge number. After the ceremony, San Marcos dispatcher Bianca Salas called it “the most difficult radio traffic I’d ever had to hear.”
Just 20 minutes earlier, Caldwell ended his speech on the words with which he said Copeland finished almost every conversation he had with him: “Be safe, brother. I’ll see you soon.”