ROSEVILLE, Minn. (KMSP) - More than 4,000 gathered Thursday to pay their respects to Corrections Officer Joseph Gomm, who was attacked and killed by an inmate at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater, Minnesota last week.
Members of law enforcement and corrections colleagues from more than 30 states attended the funeral. The number of attendees was so great that the overflow crowd at the North Heights Lutheran Church was spread across conference rooms and other church locations, watching the service on a live TV feed.
Reverend Martin Shanahan, the Stillwater prison chaplain struggled to keep his composure while remembering and honoring a man who touched many lives, including his own.
“Joe was a man of incredible authenticity, profound integrity and immense compassion,” Shanahan said.
A pair of friends and former colleagues eulogized Gomm, describing him as a teddy bear of a correctional officer who had a soft spot for animals.
“It’s with great sadness that I stand in front of you to celebrate Joe’s life,” Tom Chronakos, a friend and colleague, said. “He was taken away far too soon. It’s hard to understand why tragic things happen to such good people.”
Shanahan recalled Gomm saving an owl that was trapped in the Stillwater industrial unit and setting it free.
“I can’t begin to express how much I miss him,” Chroankos said. “Even though Joe is gone, his memory will live in all of us. Joe, I appreciate your friendship, I will never forget [and] may your memory be eternal.”
Following the service a procession accompanied Gomm’s remains to their final resting place at Roselawn Cemetery in Roseville.
Members of the public lines the nearly nine-mile procession to honor Officer Gomm.
Eleven-year-old Jacob Sampson said it was his first time witnessing the magnitude of a law enforcement funeral procession.
“We wanted to show respect for the officer,” he said in regards to why he and his family were there.
One family along the route had a personal connection to Officer Gomm. Two of their relatives, who could not attend, knew him from their time inside the Stillwater prison.
“I can’t believe that someone can actually get killed like that it’s brutal,” said Kim Vanvickle, whose son served time in the prison.
“That’s why we are out here,” Kristie Vanvickle, whose brother and fiancé knew Gomm as inmates. “Because when those guys were in there he took care of them. So now, we are here to support his family.”
Loren Vanvickle served three years for criminal vehicular homicide. He says Gomm was frequently the corrections officer he would turn to.
“He was very respectful,” Loren said. “He treated people with respect. You could actually talk to him about anything and he would talk to you about your problems.”
For others along the procession route, it was a teachable moment.
“With the kids it’s more modeling what it’s like to be part of a community,” said Julie Samson, who brought her son to the procession.”
However, for most people, attending the procession was also about showing respect, to not only Officer Gomm and his grieving family, but also every member of law enforcement putting on a uniform to protect those inside correctional facilities and out.
“I respect every single one of them and I pray to God is never happens again,” Kim Vanvickle said.