Jason Schneider always kissed his wife before he left for work each morning. On Wednesday, before the Baltimore County tactical officer walked out the door at 4 a.m., he kissed her one last time.
"I woke up and I told him I loved him. And that was the last memory of Jason alive," his wife, Ericka, wrote in a statement read aloud by a friend during Officer Schneider's funeral Saturday at St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church in Manchester.
Officer Schneider, 36, a married father of two, died Wednesday, less than two hours after he said that last goodbye. He was a member of the county's tactical unit that was serving a warrant in a nonfatal shooting in Catonsville when he was shot and killed, becoming the ninth county police officer to die in the line of duty.
More than 1,200 family, friends, and police officers from all over the region — from D.C., Pennsylvania, the Eastern Shore — came to pay their last respects. The church was packed with mourners, while officers, wearing dress blue uniforms, congregated around speakers under a blazing sun to hear the service outside.
Of the thousands of officers Baltimore County police Chief James W. Johnson has known over his career, he said, "Jason was truly one of the best. He was brave without bravado, which can prove the undoing of those who wear the badge. … He knew that being a police officer required responsibility and strength."
Officer Schneider, who served in the tactical unit for 10 years, handled thousands of calls like the ones that cost him his life on Wednesday, Chief Johnson said. His job was "bringing those to justice that did not want to face it."
As Officer Schneider attempted to subdue a fleeing teen with his ballistic shield, he was shot from the rear by Tevon Smith, 25. Officer Schneider and a second officer returned fire, killing Smith.
Officer Schneider, known by colleagues for his leadership, was often called upon to be the first man through the door, making quick judgments in life-or-death situations.
He finished first in SWAT school, said fellow tactical officer Robert Jones. "Jason progressed through the team at a rate like none other. Eventually he became the best guy we had, the most dependable guy we could put through the door first."
Officer Jones spoke with a smile when recalling Officer Schneider as the health fanatic, packing protein bars and Tupperware containers of grilled chicken and steamed broccoli while other officers sipped coffee and ate doughnuts.
As Officer Jones spoke, his fellow SWAT officers sat in the front row of the church; one clutched Officer Schneider's blue dress cap, while another held a folded American flag.
At one point, Officer Jones choked up recalling the day Officer Schneider died. He remembered how another officer fought back tears, telling Officer Jones, "I held him in his final moments. But I had him. I had him."
Officer Jones also addressed each member of Officer Schneider's family, recalling how devoted he was to his wife.
"He was the one guy, he was counting the minutes down, 'I'm going to go home and see my girl, going to go home and see my girl,'" Officer Jones said.
In her statement, read by Kim Pennywell, Ericka Schneider recalled how her husband was a devoted father who always chose to spend his weekends with his kids — Brandon and Kayla.
She wrote about how, after their first date almost seven years ago, "I told my mother I was going to marry him."
For the next year he sent her flowers every month to mark the day they met, and would continue to send them unexpectedly thereafter, she wrote.
"It didn't take long for me to fall madly in love with him. And he couldn't be more loving and thoughtful and caring towards me and, of course, our children."
At the end of the service, Ericka Schneider was presented with the department's Medal of Honor, posthumously awarded to her husband.
"Today, our department honors Officer 1st Class Jason Schneider with the highest award we can possibly give," Chief Johnson said.
After the funeral, mourners looked on as his casket was carried by pallbearers — mostly tactical officers — to the hearse, past honor guard units from around the region. Only the sound of officers' shoes hitting the pavement and a steady snare drum beat were audible.
He was later laid to rest at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.
Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Gold contributed to this article.