In the silence of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, where a multitude gathered yesterday to mourn a fallen police officer, to view his body and to bid him farewell, an honor guard approached the open casket of Cpl. Courtney G. Brooks and prepared, with unhurried precision, to close it forever.
Suddenly and with gathering strength, a wail arose from his survivors, a huddled group of relatives hunched over in grief, holding onto each other as emotion overcame them.
"No, Spanky! No!" one woman cried, invoking the nickname they all used for Brooks, a 13-year veteran of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police who was struck by a hit-and-run driver on New Year's Eve. The keening grew as the top of the casket slowly came to rest, as though the family members were trying to prolong the last look they would have of a man they loved.
The morning-long funeral for Brooks - the father of a teenager and two toddlers - was attended by fellow law enforcement officers from around the state, and some from beyond, all in ceremonial uniforms with black bands across their badges. Brooks' badge, which he had worn with such pride, was removed from his uniform as the last act before his casket's closure and carried out of the church in the cupped, white-gloved hands of a fellow officer.
Later, with a 21-gun salute, a rendition of taps and a flyover by police helicopters in a "missing-man" formation, Brooks was laid to rest at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.
If there was a consensus among the tributes from the cathedral's pulpit, it was that Brooks, 40, was a man filled with humor, who leavened the seriousness of his professional duties with an almost relentless off-duty prankishness. Even on the job he was a "jokester," Ada Patterson, a civilian inspector with the Transportation Authority, told the congregation.
"Brooks was a funny guy who never held his tongue," said Patterson, who first knew him as a voice on the police radio when he was stationed at BWI Marshall Airport. But he was also kind, she noted.
"The last time we spoke," she recalled, "he said, 'Take care of yourself,' after learning I'd hurt my knee."
Under dappled streams of light from the majestic church's stained-glass windows, the mourners - more than 2,000 of them - heard Brooks' maternal grandfather, Perry M. Hunter, say that in the past couple of years his grandson "really became a man."
"He walked around with an aura about him," Hunter said. "When he walked into a room, it was like the sun had come in. I don't know where he is now - there is a body here, but that's nothing. If there is a place for good people, he will be there."
Hunter exhorted his relatives to remain united in spite of their sorrow. "I want all of you to maintain this family as it is so we can honor the heritage that Courtney left," he said. Then, in conclusion, Hunter added, "I know if he were here he would say, 'Pop, you've said a mouthful.'"
The family members laughed through their anguish. Among them was Susan G. Geisler, who was to have become Brooks' wife in a wedding that was planned for May 17. Her two children with Brooks, 4-year-old Blake and Raigen, 2, sat at her side and occasionally on someone's lap and appeared slightly bewildered by the proceedings. Brooks' daughter Casey, 17, from a marriage that ended in divorce, was particularly affected.
"I bring you the condolences of the state of Maryland," Gov. Martin O'Malley said from the pulpit. "Reason cannot very often, or ever, make sense of a loss that is so tragic and so deep."
O'Malley described the fallen officer, who served a six-year stint in the Army before joining the Transportation Authority Police in 1994, as not only a soldier and police officer, but as a peacemaker and hero.
"He's the fourth one we've lost in four years," said Sgt. Pamela Thorne of the Transportation Authority Police. Brooks was pronounced dead in the early hours of Jan. 1 after being hit by a sport utility vehicle as he set out cones on Interstate 95 near downtown Baltimore.
The driver left the scene, but the vehicle was found hours later at a truck stop near Elkton. Its owner, Kerri J. King, was arrested but has not been charged. Police are investigating the circumstances of the accident to determine who was driving.
Marcus Brown, chief of the Transportation Authority Police, told the congregation that the agency was "working tirelessly" to conclude its probe. Brown recalled that in the hours after the accident, as family members arrived at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where the officer had been taken, "all I could do was hug them and hold their hands."
Brown said that Brooks had lost a bet about the Ravens beating the Indianapolis Colts, which, had he lived, would have meant his having to jump into a frigid body of water as part of a "polar bear plunge." In his honor, Brown said, he and other members of the department will do just that later this month.
Brown urged the congregation to give Brooks a standing ovation. They rose and did so, with fervor, the thunderous applause echoing through the towering nave of the church.
Lisa Pulay, a first cousin to Geisler, said Brooks had always been "the life of the party" and that she and her relatives had been "looking forward to raising a glass" at the couple's wedding in May.
"It broke our hearts to lose you, but you will not be going alone," Pulay said. "Don't give the Lord a hard time, and, until we meet again, keep them laughing."
View a gallery of photos at baltimoresun.com/funeral