The bustling Temple University campus came to a stop Tuesday afternoon to remember the life of Officer Christopher “Fitz” Fitzgerald during a vigil at the Bell Tower.
A sea of students from football players to theater majors gathered to pay their respects to the 31-year-old Temple Police officer who, according to those close to him, died doing what he loved: Protecting the Temple family. He was the first member of the Temple force killed in the line of duty.
Bucks County resident Miles Pfeffer, 18, allegedly shot Fitzgerald Saturday night as the officer tried to stop three people in a robbery just off the Temple campus. Pfeffer disregarded Fitzgerald’s commands, shooting Fitzgerald in the head and then firing several more shots into his face, according to an affidavit.
U.S. Marshals took Pfeffer into custody at his Buckingham Township home on Sunday morning.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first vigil we have held on campus,” said Temple Senior Vice President and Provost Gregory Mandell, who noted in 16 years it was by far the biggest crowd he had seen.
“What took place Saturday night was a testament to his selflessness and today was an apt tribute and testimony to his life,” Mandell said.
Strong wind threatened the opening of the ceremony, sending the tent adorning the podium ripping through the crowd. Moments later someone in the audience tried to disrupt the ceremony, prompting a quick scuffle with members of the Fitzgerald family. After the protestor was escorted out, the service began.
The afternoon’s first speaker, Quaiser Abdullah, a communications professor and a chaplain with the Philadelphia Police Department, delivered a eulogy.
“What happened to Fitz is a glaring reminder that life is temporary,” Abdullah said, as members of the Temple Police Department looked on from the front row.
University President Jason Wingard urged the Temple community to bring meaning to Fitzgerald’s values, to return “to a place where love abides.”
“One of our deepest fears became true but what it can teach us is compassion,” Wingard said. “You all gather here every day to make the world a better place, to elevate yourselves path of dissent is the path of transformation.”
The most emotional moment came when Marissa Fitzgerald, the officer’s widow, addressed the crowd. “My life will never be the same,” she said of her husband and father of four children. “He did what he had to do for you [Temple students] to not have to hear a gunshot.”
Taylor Warren, a freshman studying media studies production and whose mother is also a Temple police officer, thought the vigil was an important healing moment for the university.
“I came here to pay my respect to him and my family,” Warren said.
Fitzgerald’s father, Joel Fitzgerald, Sr. served as a Philadelphia police officer for 17 years. He spoke about the example his son set for the Temple community.
“He took guns off the street for you, so I ask you to pay it forward. What will save this country is you who came here today to celebrate our son’s life.”
And he urged the students, “Make his life mean something.”