Mourners lament loss, celebrate officer's life
By John Agar
The Grand Rapids Press
GRAND RAPIDS -- On his proudest day, Robert Kozminski took the oath as a Grand Rapids police officer.

"On that day, he pledged before God and all of us that he would do even this, in the service of the community that he loved," the Rev. Dennis Morrow said Friday at Holy Cross Cemetery.

"All of us are made nobler by his sacrifice."

As family, friends and police officers from across the state looked on, the seven-year officer was laid to rest, six days after he was shot and killed while responding to a report of a man threatening to kill his own wife and children.

Kozminski, posthumously awarded the department's Memorial Award of Honor, was remembered as a hero, willing to risk his life to save a mother and her teenage sons.

It came at a terrible cost.

Kozminski, 29, known as "Koz," was the youngest of Richard and Maria Kozminski's seven children.

A picture board in the lobby at St. Anthony of Padua showed a proud father with "Daddy's little angel," his 3-year-old daughter, Kailey. Today, wearing a pink dress, Kailey carried the flag of her father's beloved University of Michigan Wolverines and said, "This is for my daddy."

Other young family members wore T-shirts depicting a police badge on the front and "GRPD" on the back. As family walked by, a Grand Rapids police officer, standing at attention, closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

More than 1,000 police officers from

across the state attended services. In a 90-minute procession, officers walked the center aisle past the officer's family, then stopped and saluted his cloth-draped casket. Some of his colleagues wiped tears with white gloves.

Police Chief Harry Dolan said Kozminski wrote in a 1999 letter he always dreamed of working for his hometown department.

He was doing just that when he responded to the domestic-violence call early Sunday on the city's Northwest Side. Police say Jeffrey VanVels, troubled over a failed marriage, threatened to kill his estranged wife and two boys. Kozminski was covering the back of the house when VanVels allegedly shot him in the head.

Dolan said his officer's sacrifice meant VanVels' sons will "live a life free of the horrors of domestic violence."

He hoped the boys would "one day think of the man who sacrificed his life for the lives of strangers."

Defending victims was "his calling," said the Rev. Mark Przybysz, pastor at St. Anthony's.

No one can understand the loss, he said, but he urged everyone to keep faith in God.

"We came here today, and we're asking, 'Why? Why? Why this young man is now dead? Why, someone who was so full of promise? We're never going to come up with an answer to that, 'Why?'"

Officer Joe Trigg, speaking during the church service, said he considered Kozminski a close friend. Their children were born two days apart. When Trigg bragged about his son walking, Kozminski would joke that his daughter was running.

On the street, Trigg said he never worried about backup. Trigg recalled tackling a suspect in the street, then hearing the Kozminski's engine racing to the scene.

"He came up so fast, he almost ran me over," he joked.

Trigg was grateful for the time they had together.

"To Mr. and Mrs. Kozminski," he said, "just to let you know, I'm going to dedicate my life to paying tribute to your son."

At the burial site, Kozminski's parents stood as the Grand Rapids police honor guard carried his flag-draped casket. One of his brothers, David, who is serving in the U.S. Navy, saluted. Police officers, at attention, saluted.

Morrow, the police chaplain, prayed that Kozminski hears the "choir of angels," and asked God to bring comfort to those hurting.

After a 21-gun salute, the honor guard removed the American flag from the officer's casket and folded it. One of the officers approached Dolan, and handed him the flag. David Kozminski held the flag over his

heart, then walked to his mother. He bowed, then placed the flag on her lap. He then bent over, hugged both of his parents, turned toward the casket and saluted his brother.

Grand Rapids police officers then walked past the casket, removing the white gloves from their right hands and put them on the casket.

At the close of the service, a dispatcher spoke over police radio.

"On July 8, 2007, Officer Robert Kozminski answered his final call. Officer Kozminski was shot and killed while responding to a felonious domestic assault. There is no greater hero than a man who lays down his life for another.

"Grand Rapids Police badge no. 89 is 10-42 (ending his service). ... Thank you, Koz, and God bless."

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