Of all the love letters Elizabeth Romrell has written to her husband, she never thought she’d be writing this one, a goodbye to her best friend and workout buddy, the father of their 4-month-old baby boy, Jackson.
Addressed to her darling David, her letter said, “I want you to know how much I love you. I know we told each other every moment of every day, but I still feel like I didn’t tell you enough.
“I love you.”
Elizabeth Romrell watched her friend Michelle Watts read her words as she sat in the first row of chairs lining the floor of the Maverik Center on Wednesday. She held Jackson, just feet from the flag-draped coffin that held Officer David Romrell’s body. The former Marine was killed Nov. 24 when he was struck by a car in a confrontation with two burglary suspects near 3300 South and 300 West in South Salt Lake.
The driver of the Chevrolet Impala, Felix Calata, 31, was killed that night when police opened fire on the car. Jeffrey Black, who was in the passenger seat of the Impala, is being held in the Salt Lake County jail, facing possible charges including aggravated murder.
Pictures of the Romrells flashed across two identical white screens on the stage just behind the casket. In one, David Romrell was dressed in red and black plaid, a fur hat on his head, with his arms around Elizabeth, who was dressed to match.
Later, the two were shown looking at the camera for a selfie, dressed for the desert in front of red rocks. Then the crowd saw them in matching black shirts, looking down at their newborn son, tiny and sleeping with a shock of dark hair.
“You brought me joy, happiness, excitement and adventure,” Elizabeth Romrell had written. “Most importantly you brought me Jackson.”
Elizabeth Romrell vowed in her letter that she will never let her son forget his father. She said he will know his father was a warrior and a jokester, with a goofy personality that fueled his penchant for the once standard-issue short shorts those in the Marine Corps affectionately refer to as “silkies.”
“He will know the love his daddy has for him every day. Our son will know that you would do anything to protect him, ultimately giving your life to make sure that he was safe,” the letter read.
Several hundred people attended the West Valley City native’s funeral. South Salt Lake police Sgt. Matt Oehler set the tone of the ceremony with the opening prayer, asking for the strength to honor a life spent in service to country and community, and for David Romrell’s family members to know they aren’t grieving alone.
“Father, we pray that for all those here in attendance, that they will feel a measure of the goodness and the greatness that [David Romrell], indeed, carried,” Oehler said.
Throughout the nearly two-hour service, speakers described David Romrell as a model Marine, police officer, friend and family man — with a genuine and joking personality to boot.
South Salt Lake’s police department is small, with about 60 sworn officers, according to its website. That means in the 11 months David Romrell was with them, he made an impression, and that his death — the first in department history — has been particularly hard on the other officers.
South Salt Lake Police Chief Jack Carruth told mourners that David Romrell had earned the trust and respect of his fellow officers in his time there. He was an ambitious and quick learner, and his past experience with Marines helped him tactically.
But he also had something else: He knew service to community was more than just responding to 911 calls.
“That’s a rare trait to find in an officer, and that’s exactly what we need in our community, is officers like David Romrell was,” Carruth said before the funeral Wednesday.
Carruth said that since David Romrell died, community members have been sharing stories of how he helped them, ones that Carruth hadn’t heard before. That’s because, as many who spoke at the funeral attested, David Romrell was humble.
“When an officer’s heart is larger than their courage, there shall be no greater guardian worthy of wearing a badge. That was David,” Carruth said.
David Romrell was also the officer who would pull jokes around the department, leaving little toys, like rubber ducks, in the lockers of his fellow officers, including Chief Carruth’s.
Carruth said Tuesday that officers have started leaving the same little knickknacks around David Romrell’s locker as an unofficial memorial.
Master Sergeant Scott Hall, who deployed twice with David Romrell, recalled a time when he showed up in his silkies when officials called for an all-hands-on-deck cleaning of the aircraft carrier where they were stationed.
“Who doesn’t want to see a grown man in his silkies with duct tape on his hands, picking up these beads [that were all over the deck]. David did it motivated, always with a smile,” Hall said.
Andrew Horrocks, a Utah native who met David Romrell in the Marine Corps, said in their civilian lives the two often went to the gym together after work in the trademark short shorts.
In the type of work David Romrell did, he knew the risks and embraced them for the greater good, Carruth said.
Toward the end of the service, before the casket was carried out of the stadium, South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood took the microphone to list the phrases those in and around law enforcement use to describe the inherent unpredictability of the job and the community it fosters, which she called the noble statements of a noble profession: “Brothers and sisters in blue. Thin blue line. Never be forgotten.”
“And,” she said as her voice wavered with emotion, “Ultimate sacrifice.”
Then she asked police officers in attendance to stand up, followed by members of the armed forces. More than half the room rose.
“Elizabeth, please look around you,” Wood said. “We are your family. We are your brothers and sisters in blue. We are a thin blue line.
“David will never be forgotten. We will always remember his ultimate sacrifice.”