In an emotional farewell, throng pays respects to fallen New Kensington police officer Brian Shaw
Frazer police Chief Terry Kuhns sat across the table from the wide-eyed job candidate and asked the standard question: "Why do you want to be a cop?"
The young man, Brian Shaw, responded with what could be perceived as a standard answer.
"He looked at me and said, 'Because I want to make a difference,'" Kuhns said.
The look in Shaw's eyes persuaded Kuhns to offer him the job right on the spot.
"Looking directly in Brian's infectious eyes, and with his smile, I knew and believed that he meant what he said. Brian pulled me in like I'm sure he's done with everybody."
Hundreds of mourners packed Mount St. Peter Church on Wednesday to join Kuhns and others in bidding farewell to Shaw, 25, a New Kensington police officer shot and killed Friday evening during an attempted traffic stop.
Thousands more gathered outside. Shaw started with the Frazer Police Department on July 8, 2016, and continued until he became a full-time New Kensington officer in June.
Throughout the somber ceremony, Shaw's older brother, Steffan Shaw, seated next to his parents, Lisa and Stephan, placed his hand atop the closed casket. Steffan Shaw is a Penn Hills police officer and worked alongside his brother for a short time in Frazer. Kuhns initially wondered whether the two brothers working together would cause problems.
"I quickly saw the connection between Steffan and Brian," he said.
Greensburg Bishop Edward Malesic acknowledged the pain and heartache reverberating through the church during his homily.
"We stand together in our grief," he told the crowd. "Left alone, we would fall down in despair, but together, we are trying to hold each other up."
Malesic spoke of Shaw's realized dream of becoming an officer.
"I am told that Brian knew early on that he was called to do something special and great and significant," he said. "He wanted to make sure people's rights were upheld, and he did it in a compassionate and sensitive way, with a smile. It was his calling to protect us, help us to laugh, and lift us up."
The job, Shaw knew, came with hazards.
"Brian knew, just as all men and women in blue know, that their lives might be demanded from them," Malesic said. "It comes with the territory. Thank God there are people who are braver than I am, and I imagine braver than many of us are. We want to thank all the men and women who serve us in law enforcement. Thank you for putting your lives on the line every day, and thank you for keeping us safe."
With Shaw's parents and brother seated in the front row, New Kensington police Chief Jim Klein choked back tears as he addressed the crowd.
Klein also found a way to create a moment of laughter.
He recalled when Shaw, fresh on the job, crashed his pickup into Klein's car in the station's parking lot.
"He didn't just hit my car, he drove up over the front end," Klein said to the laughing crowd.
When Shaw sheepishly returned to the police station, someone joked, "Well that's the shortest police career ever," the chief said to more laughing.
"To say goodbye is to let him go and I promise you we will never let him go," Klein said. "He will forever be a part of me, the New Kensington Police Department and the many other lives he has touched during his young life."
Before the funeral began at 10:40 a.m., at least 1,000 police officers gathered outside the church.
Residents and mourners lined the streets of the funeral procession in New Kensington, clutching American flags and homemade signs. Large crowds gathered outside the church entrance taking cellphone videos and pictures. They listened to the funeral Mass on the sidewalk through speakers set up outside.
Nancy Bruni and her children Naomi, 9, and Leo, 5, painted the words "God Bless Officer Shaw," along with their handprints on a white bedsheet to display. They walked a short distance from their New Kensington home to the sidewalk outside of Shaw's funeral and proudly held up the sign.
"I think it's important for them to know there are people taking care of them in the community," Nancy Bruni said.
Jason Marciniak of New Kensington stood outside of the church before the funeral and marveled at the scene.
"This is a very beautiful thing that this town is doing," he said. "They've come out to respect this officer. He gave everything he had for this town, and I just think it's a heartwarming feeling to be out here and experience this. It's a sad thing to say but it's something you don't get to be a part of every day, and I think we'll remember this for as long as we live."
A group of about 60 Valley High School students and faculty gathered near the church with American flags awaiting the funeral procession. Some students softly sang the "Star Spangled Banner" followed by Christmas carols.
Senior Ian Henry said it was important to show support to Shaw's family and other officers.
"We hope that they'll see how important they are to us," Henry said. "Our cause is to make sure Officer Shaw won't be forgotten."
School Principal Patrick Nee said it was important for his students to take in the enormity of Shaw's funeral. He said the unification of law enforcement officers from throughout the region and beyond would forever impact the students.
"The outpouring that happens when something this tragic occurs is just amazing," he said. "And for our students to go and be a part of that, I think that's something that for the rest of their lives they'll be able to look back and think back upon."
Shaw was buried early Wednesday afternoon in Greenwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Lower Burrell.
"In the end, Brian's life made a real difference for us," Malesic said during the funeral. "That's why this church is filled with mourners who are remembering a life well lived and honoring a man who gave of himself — and who gave himself – so that others might live. I thank God for the gift of Brian, and I pray for more like him."
Staff writer Natasha Lindstrom contributed. Ben Schmitt, Renatta Signorini and Brian Rittmeyer are Tribune-Review staff writers.