Colleagues and friends recalled 29-year-old Aberdeen Police Department Officer Charles Armetta, killed Saturday after falling off an I-95 bridge, as a passionate and fun-loving person who was a major part of the department.
Now, he is also the first Aberdeen officer to die suddenly, Police Chief Henry Trabert said.
"As far as his impact on the department and the community, he was second to none," Aberdeen Police Cpl. Will Reiber said Tuesday, calling Ofc. Armetta crucial to the narcotics unit.
"You can't even talk about replacing a guy like that," Reiber said. "That guy would do anything to make a case and put a case together that was solid and done constitutionally and would have a positive outcome."
Ofc. Armetta, who lived in Joppa, had just finished the department's police training with his dog, Maverick.
On Monday, he would have celebrated the first birthday of his daughter, Adrianna, together with his wife, Heather.
Trabert called him "one of our finest police officers" and said the department has never before faced the sudden death of an officer.
"We have never had... an officer die so tragically," he said. "We have never felt the shock of a sudden passing."
"He actually made a big difference in the community, made a big difference in the department," Trabert said. "Not only was he a good police officer but he was a loyal, dedicated person, father to his 1-year-old daughter, brother, son a man with many friends."
Trabert said the department brought in grief counselors for officers and is trying to help Ofc. Armetta's wife and daughter.
"We are doing everything we can to support the family," he said. "Anything the family needs, we will be there."
Messages of support from the community at large have also been coming in.
"He was really loved and he will really be missed by the law enforcement community, by his family and friends," Trabert said. "We have been getting a lot of calls, not only from the law enforcement community but citizens, people from all over, have been calling in with their condolences. It's pretty overwhelming and it doesn't surprise me because he was so well-liked."
The Aberdeen City Council announced Monday it was canceling its meeting that night "out of great respect and deep sorrow" after the officer's passing.
Black banners were draped above the Aberdeen police sign on the department's building, as well as a police car parked symbolically in front.
Reiber, who met Ofc. Armetta when he graduated from the police academy, said he showed "empathy and compassion and the ability to go out and tackle problems."
He said the death has definitely hit the department hard because it was totally unexpected.
"You lose a guy that's 29 years old who has a young child and is a very caring father and all that, it's a real tragedy – that his daughter... will never get to know the real value of him as a person," Reiber said.
Reiber said Ofc. Armetta was one of the "five percent of law enforcement" that go above and beyond, taking on additional assignments.
"There's not a lot of guys like that. In each department, you only have so many," he said.
Jason Neidig, president of FOP Lodge 128, described Ofc. Armetta as a fun-loving, passionate man who was dedicated to his job.
"Charles was the kind of person [who was] full of energy, loved his job and his new position as a canine handler," Neidig said via e-mail. "He was so excited about making the Aberdeen Canine Program a success."
Neidig added Ofc. Armetta was "passionate" about the Orioles and Ravens and was committed to his family.
"Charles kept everyone on their toes; he was a 'jokester' if you will," he said. "I believe people will remember his sense of humor. Recently my wife and I gave his family some baby clothes and he told me how excited he was. He said he was so excited because he was going to be able to sell the clothing on e-Bay and make a huge profit. Charlie always found a way to make you laugh, smile."
Aberdeen City Manager Doug Miller also recalled Ofc. Armetta fondly.
"Charlie was one of those truly good guys that one meets in your career," Miller said via e-mail. "He was a devoted dad and husband and for our department[,] he was a great ambassador with his partner Maverick. He was a special person and a special officer."
The Aberdeen Police Department published a statement on its website: "It is with deep regret that we announce the untimely death of Aberdeen Police Department Canine Officer Charles Armetta. Rest In Peace Brother."
Armetta fell off a raised portion of the interstate in Baltimore City, Sgt. Kirk Perez, a spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, said Saturday.
A viewing will be held from 3 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at Schimunek Funeral Home at 9705 Belair Road in Perry Hall.
The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Stephen Church at 8030 Bradshaw Road in Bradshaw, near Kingsville.
Interment will follow the funeral service at Bel Air Memorial Gardens at 809 Rock Spring Road in Bel Air.
A reception will then be held at the Aberdeen Fire Department at 21 North Rogers St.
The Fraternal Order of Police has also set up a memorial fund. Donations can be made to Charles Armetta Memorial, C/O Harco Federal Credit Union, 1028 Middleton Road, Aberdeen, MD 21001.
Donations can also be made via the FOP website at http://www.fop128.com.
MDTA police received a call at 3:15 a.m. Saturday from someone reporting a person had fallen from northbound I-95 near Exit 52.
Police responded and found Ofc. Armetta in the wooded area beneath the highway. He had fallen about 47 feet.
Ofc. Armetta was with eight or nine friends and family members in a limousine-type bus, Perez said, and the bus had pulled over on I-95 near the off-ramp. It's unclear how Ofc. Armetta fell or why he was on the side of the road, Perez said.
"We're still investigating why he got out," he said. "It looks like a tragic accident at this point."
It was still under investigation Tuesday afternoon, Perez said.
Ofc. Armetta was pronounced dead on the scene by Baltimore medics.
The Maryland State Police crime lab and state forensic investigators also responded.
Ofc. Armetta was assigned to the department's recently reinstated police dog unit. He and Maverick, is a 2-year-old German shepherd shipped from Europe to Castle K-9 in Pennsylvania, had been training with the New Castle County, Del., Police Department. They graduated the 12-week program earlier this summer.
Ofc. Armetta is the second police officer to die in three days, though his death was not in the line of duty.
On Thursday morning, Harford County Sheriff's Office Cpl. Charles B. Licato, 34, a 14-year veteran of the sheriff's office who was assigned to the Apprehension Unit of the Services and Support Bureau, died in a car accident on his to his Cecil County home from work around 2:15 a.m. Thursday.
Neidig said the succession of deaths is especially difficult.
"Harford County citizens have lost two great officers in 48 hours this past week," he wrote. "Words cannot express the sadness or grief, especially with the death of Officer Armetta."
Staff writer Erika Butler contributed to this article.