JERSEY CITY (WABC) --Hundreds of police officers were among the mourners at Friday morning's funeral for Jersey City police officer Melvin Santiago, who was gunned down Sunday in what investigators say was an ambush.
Gov. Chris Christie; Rep. Albio Sires (N.J.), former West New York mayor; and former Gov. Jim McGreevey attended.
Santiago was buried following the 11 a.m. funeral Mass at St. Aloysius Catholic Church on West Side Avenue. A hearse carrying the coffin arrived at St. Aloysius, passing hundreds of police officers lining the surrounding streets.
A procession of priests and deacons followed Coadjutor Archbishop of Newark Bernard A. Hebda who celebrated the Mass. The casket bearing Santiago's body and his family followed. After the national anthem, the flag covering the casket was removed.
Santiago was an eager learner who had recently gotten a tip from his uncle, a retired officer, and put it into action, the uncle said at his funeral Friday.
"He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his Uncle Frank," Frank DeFazio said during the services for Jersey City Officer Melvin Santiago at St. Aloysius Catholic Church.
"It was my honor," he said, addressing the flag-draped casket, "to work alongside you, Officer Santiago."
DeFazio recalled how, even when Santiago was working at a Target store and didn't own a car, he never missed a birthday party of a relative's baby girl even though it was a two-hour trip each way.
It was at the toddler's birthday party last Saturday, the day before he died, that Santiago told DeFazio he had taken his tip on positioning during a traffic stop and used it on the street.
"He told me, 'Uncle Frank, I did the car stop just like you told me and it blew my partner's mind,'" DeFazio said. DeFazio added that Santiago had scheduled an appointment for Monday morning at a BMW dealer to buy the car he'd always coveted.
The service's other public speaker, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, noted that Santiago had requested to work in the city's western section, where much of Jersey City's violent crime is concentrated, so he could watch, learn
On Thursday, hundreds of Jersey City police officers and officers from surrounding towns filed in and out of the McLaughlin Funeral Home to honor Santiago, who was 23. He was awarded the department's Medal of Honor and was posthumously promoted to the rank of detective.
Among those paying their respects at the wake were former Gov. Jim McGreevey, Rep. Albio Sires, former Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer.
Meanwhile, police in Jersey City continue to be on alert over concerns of retaliation and possible gang threats against officers. Part of the warning, issued by the New Jersey Regional Operations Center is for officers working alone on the Pulaski Skyway construction detail, as well as EMTs.
The memo, titled Officer Safety Bulletin, states, "This alert is deemed credible." It explains the concern stems from Santiago's death and possibly the result of the police-involved shooting death of Lavon King last month.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said such threats frequently crop up after police shootings and are rarely credible.
"Every urban area, every police department knows that after every single police shooting, threats come in," Fulop said. "Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, they're not credible, but we always take them seriously."
The state police memo also says gang members may be stashing automatic weapons in abandoned properties along Martin Luther King Drive.
The mayor said it's unclear whether Santiago's killer, 27-year-old Lawrence Campbell, who had prior drug arrests and was being sought in connection with a separate murder at the time of his death, was affiliated with a gang.
Since Sunday, tensions have risen over a sidewalk memorial set up for Campbell in the crime-plagued neighborhood where he lived. Fulop ordered the memorial taken down Tuesday.
Around the corner from Campbell's memorial is a separate memorial to King, a 20-year-old shot by police after they said he struggled with an officer and tried to disarm him.
Gov. Chris Christie ordered flags at state office buildings to be flown at half-staff Wednesday for Santiago.
Mayor Steven M. Fulop announced that the City of Jersey City and the United Way of Hudson County have established a memorial fund for the family of fallen Jersey City Police Officer Melvin Santiago. Anyone wishing to make a donation to the fund can do so in the following two methods:
1 - Text to number 52000 with the subject line UWHC Santiago. Once the text is sent, you will receive a text asking to confirm your donation by typing in YES. You will then receive a thank you text and the process is complete. You can send up to three text donations of $10.
2 - People can donate with either e-checks or credit card payments via the United Way link at http://www.liveunitedhudson.org/
In the drop down menu "Which cause are you donating to" select "Officer Melvin Santiago."