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A photo montage preceding Jamal Mitchell's memorial service flashed through the life of the 36-year-old Minneapolis police officer, killed in the line of duty.

It depicted him doing the things a lot of us do, surrounded by family and friends. Watching a ball game. Playing a board game. Eating a Sweet Martha's cookie. Holding a baby, asleep on his chest.

Mitchell was on vacation. Celebrating a birthday. He was dressed as Batman and Mr. Incredible. And in his police uniform, reading to kids.

He was a man who sacrificed everything to protect the community. And a man, the images reflected, who spent his life building community, bringing warmth and affection to all those he met.

Video (03:33) Minneapolis police officer Jamal Mitchell, who was killed on the job, was praised in eulogies for his courage and selflessness during a memorial service.

Minutes earlier, a phalanx of law-enforcement officers dressed in white, black, brown and blue stood in silent attention outside Maple Grove Senior High School as a procession of mounted police escorted the caisson wagon transporting Mitchell's flag-draped casket. Six officers carried the casket to the front of the gymnasium and placed it next to Mitchell's beaming portrait and several bouquets. One of the floral arrangements formed a white heart, with a jagged break down its center.

Thousands of law enforcement officers filed in to pay their respects to a fallen colleague killed on May 30 while responding to a shooting in Minneapolis' Whittier neighborhood. Attendees were there to show support for Mitchell's family, including his partner and their four children.

Mike Emmert, pastor of Eagle Brook Church in Wayzata, opened the service by encouraging mourners to shed tears of pain and happiness. "Today, it's good to cry, and today it's good to laugh and to have some joy, because of the joy that Jamal brought to all of us," he said.

Emmert asked those assembled to step back from asking the instinctive question of "why?": Why did this have to happen? Why would God allow this? Instead, he urged focus on questions of "what?": What should I learn from this? What is God trying to show me? What is God doing with my heart?

"If you ask these questions, you're gonna find the hope that Jamal had found in his life."

Pastor Mike Emmert, left, listens as Denise Raper, aunt of Minneapolis police officer Jamal Mitchell, right, speaks during a public memorial service for Mitchell at Maple Grove Senior High School on Tuesday.
Pastor Mike Emmert, left, listens as Denise Raper, aunt of Minneapolis police officer Jamal Mitchell, right, speaks during a public memorial service for Mitchell at Maple Grove Senior High School on Tuesday.

Abbie Parr, Associated Press

"This was Jamal's purpose"

Mitchell's aunt Denise Raper read the 23rd Psalm and described her nephew's his life's work as helping others. "This was Jamal's purpose," she said. "To reach down and pick you up."

Mitchell spent most of his life in New Haven, Conn., before moving to Minnesota about six years ago. He joined the Minneapolis Police Department in 2023 and quickly became known for his exceptional friendliness — waving from his squad car and chatting people up when out on patrol. He was thorough and empathetic, often checking in on crime victims a few days after responding to an incident.

Mitchell's colleagues said they saw him as sergeant material and wished they could clone him. In his own way, Mitchell was repairing the reputation of the Minneapolis Police Department in the wake of George Floyd's killing. With each greeting and toothpaste-commercial smile, Mitchell seemed to communicate: I'm a part of this community. And I'm here for you.

On his third day on the job, Mitchell and his partner, Zachery Randall, had their mettle tested when they were the first to arrive on the scene of a fire. Though they lacked protective gear, the two raced inside the burning home and lead an elderly couple to safety. The rookie cop made good on what had drawn him to his new career: the chance to save lives, even as he risked his own.

And when Mitchell did the same, on his final call, he didn't hesitate. With this act, Raper noted that her nephew did what he set out to do. "Through our tears and heavy heart we collectively say: 'Mission accomplished.' "

"The very best of our city"

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey eulogized Mitchell, saying that "he exemplified the very best of our city." Frey poignantly thanked Mitchell on behalf of all Minneapolis residents and visitors for choosing to work in the city, despite its challenges. "We will never forget the sacrifice you made," he said. "You lived a hero. You died a hero, and you will be remembered as a hero in our city forever."

Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara shared that Mitchell had been posthumously bestowed the two highest honors in the department: the Medal of Honor and Purple Heart. He called Mitchell "deeply committed" to the police officer's mission to protect and serve. O'Hara said Mitchell represented "all that is good about the men and women of the Minneapolis Police Department and police officers around this state and this country."

O'Hara said functioning democracies need guardians, and "Jamal was the epitome of a guardian of our community. Jamal was courageous to his very core. He was empathetic and deeply committed to the cause and mission of police officers in our country. He was heroic as a man until the very end."

Two of Mitchell's friends introduced themselves with nicknames he'd given them. Minneapolis police officer Luke Weatherspoon, who went through the academy with Mitchell, was "Dookie Lukey." Mitchell's neighbor Chris Dunker was "Slam Dunk." Both shared stories of Mitchell's selflessness including, how, the day before his death, Mitchell had jumped into a pool to grab a kid struggling in the water without pausing to slip off his prized Nikes. (Mitchell's family, and even Emmert, were wearing Nikes in honor of the beloved sneakerhead.)

Weatherspoon and Dunker noted how Mitchell spent hours volunteering, coaching basketball and playing with his kids in the yard. How he was so energetic and inclusive. Dunker shared that another neighbor had said that if someone were to offer him $1 million to say one bad thing about Mitchell, he simply wouldn't be able to do it.

"What does that say about his character and reputation? It tells me he is exactly the officer we need more of in our community," he said.

Dunker then spoke directly to his friend: "I'll miss your bigger-than-life personality. But know this: At least twice a day every day, every day, I'll be thinking of you and that big, bright Colgate smile." Dunker then pulled a tube of toothpaste out of his suit jacket, stirring a laugh from the crowd.

Emmert gave the closing prayer and thanked God for "how you take something that is evil and turn it into something that is good." The color guard escorted the flags out before Mitchell's family exited, followed by Gov. Tim Walz. The crowd departed, many clutching blue-and-white roses, as bagpipers played.

Outside, a rifle volley was fired in salute and a single helicopter flew overhead. A final call was issued for officer Jamal Mitchell, badge 4819.

Local first responders salute as the funeral procession for Minneapolis police officer Jamal Mitchell drives down I-494 in Plymouth.
Local first responders salute as the funeral procession for Minneapolis police officer Jamal Mitchell drives down I-494 in Plymouth.

Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

"The community supports them"

At the start of the processional, fire trucks blocked the road. A giant American flag hung between the truck's extended ladders and their crews saluted the stream of vehicles headed to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Mitchell's body will be flown back to his native Connecticut for a service and burial.

Dean Scheidler, a retired FBI special agent who was with the bureau for 31 years, stood outside the service near fire trucks holding an American flag. He was there in solidarity and support.

"The circumstances of his killing, the way he lived his life, it's not overstated to use the word 'hero,' " he said, adding that he is a "firm believer that the profession has been done a disservice" by community members and council members who call for defunding police.

"I feel like the police need to have more advocates. They need to be stronger advocates for themselves, and they need community leaders and the public to be stronger advocates for them. You only see it when there's a funeral … and it needs to happen all the time, every day in every interaction. The police have to earn that respect in the way they deal with people, but we have to give them the benefit of the doubt."

On the I-94 overpass at Weaver Lake Road, Kris Foley and daughters, Erin, 8, and Cara, 6, waved flags as they waited for the procession to start. "Our dad is a police officer," said Erin Foley, adding that she and her sister go to school with Mitchell's children. Their dad, a Robbinsdale officer, was among those from neighboring agencies patrolling Minneapolis so MPD officers could attend the funeral, Kris Foley said.

Greg Anzelc of Maple Grove attached two flags to the overpass fence and said the death of an officer from the community hit home. "We're all here to show the family and all first responders that the community supports them, the state supports them."

As the processional made its 30-mile journey, those along the roadside met the always-waving officer with gestures of respect and love: Two friends embraced and raised their hands, firefighters saluted, and a woman shaped her fingers into a heart and held it to the heavens.