A smalltown boy who grew up to be a big-city cop was laid to rest Thursday after he was a hailed as a hero for putting himself in harm’s way to save a woman and her child from an angry man with a gun.
Indianapolis police officer Rod Bradway, 41, was honored by thousands of public safety officers, civilians and public officials who gathered at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse for an emotional tribute. It was followed by a slow procession to a gravesite service near the Heroes of Public Safety monument in the historic Crown Hill Cemetery.
“To get yourself killed as a police officer, you don’t have to be a rogue cop, you don’t have to antagonize anybody, you don’t have to pit yourself against any big-league crook,” Nappanee Mayor Larry Thompson told mourners. “All you have to do is stumble into somebody’s madness.”
Bradway, who grew up in the northern Indiana town of Nappanee, was killed a week ago when he kicked in an apartment door in response to screams for help from a woman being held at gunpoint by her former boyfriend. That man fatally shot Bradway, police say, then died after Bradway and another officer returned fire. The woman and her 11-month-old child were unharmed.
Indianapolis police chief Rick Hite said Bradway’s actions represented more than just a reflexive response to a cry for help.
“He symbolically kicked down the door of anger,” Hite said. “He kicked down the door of hatred. He kicked down the door of pain. He kicked down the door of fear. He kicked down the door of despair.
“At the same time, Rod opened the door to peace,” he continued. “He opened the door to life. He opened the door to trust. He opened the door to honor. He opened the door to love. And he opened the door to legacy. This magnificent act of bravery and kindness allows a mother to raise a child.”
It took almost an hour for the hundreds of police officers from around the state, many accompanied by their spouses and children, to process into the fieldhouse before the service began. They were joined by hundreds more firefighters and their families who came to honor Bradway’s years as a firefighter before he became a police officer.
Every 10 minutes, the stream of mourners stopped to make way for the casket guard — two members of police honor guards from around Indiana who took turns standing at attention at the head and foot of Bradway’s flag-draped casket while mourners slowly walked by.
After the call to worship, the marching band of Decatur Central High School played “On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss.” The band played without two of their members: Bradway’s two children, Jonathan, 15, and Sierra, 13, who sat, often arm in arm, with their mother, Jamie, and extended family that included Bradway’s parents, Tom and Sherri Bradway of Nappanee and his brother, Chip.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence opened the remembrances portion of the service by thanking law enforcement for their service and thanking the Bradway family for its sacrifice.
“Words fail when heroes fall,” Pence said. “In times like these, words can never give proper voice to our sorrow. Our gratitude, our respect. And still we must try. Courage is not found in words. It is found in deeds. Not in what we say, but in moments of trial.
“This city, this state, owes a debt of honor to Officer Rod Bradway and his family that we will never fully repay,” Pence said. “He was one of us, and he was the best of us.”
To Bradway’s family, Pence offered these words: “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and that will be our prayer to you.”
After stepping away from the podium, Pence stepped off the stage and knelt before Bradway’s widow, handing her a ceremonial state flag before embracing her and her children.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said his city will long mourn Bradway’s death.
“Most people go their whole life wondering whether they made a difference,” Ballard said. “Police officers don’t have that problem. Once the training is complete and the uniform is on, they have made that difference by standing up for a civil society, pledging to defend all of us against those who want to harm that civil society.”
It wasn’t all tears at the service. Thompson, mayor of Nappanee for 18 years, talked about Bradway’s younger days as a star athlete on a high school football team that often faced much bigger rivals. He spoke of Bradway’s fearless spirit, and told a story of Bradway kicking a 50-yard field goal with moments to go in the game.
And he told of a Nappanee police officer who was killed in the line of duty when Bradway was just a teenager, under circumstances similar to Bradway’s death. That officer’s partner was also later killed in the line of duty.
“Please remember, Rod’s spirit rides with you every day as you protect us from this madness,” Thompson told Bradley’s comrades. “May the very thought of Rod Bradway’s spirit return you home safely every day.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for CNHI, the Tribune-Star’s parent company. She can be reached at email@example.com.