They stood at attention in the driving rain, their dress shirts soaked. They had come from as far away as Houston and Atlanta to pay tribute to one of their own: New Orleans Police Department Officer Natasha Hunter.
Hunter, 32, died June 7 as a result of injuries she suffered when her stopped police vehicle was hit by a suspected drunken driver on Interstate 10 early June 5.
On Monday, hundreds of police officers from across the region and country stood on Read Boulevard as her body was carried into a hearse after her funeral.
As friends, family and 1st District colleagues had entered Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church earlier, they filed toward the front, where Hunter’s body lay in a white-lined coffin next to a heart-shaped, pink-and-white flower arrangement and a pedestal occupied only by a Police Department cap.
The testimonials offered about her centered on two facets of Hunter’s life: her 11 years of service as an NOPD officer and what was described as a vibrant life with a large family and a 5-year-old daughter, Jasmine.
Speaking in front of a packed audience at the church, Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked mourners to keep in mind both Hunter’s death and Sunday’s mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. Both cases, Landrieu said, underlined the dangers and the sacrifices of those in law enforcement.
In the past 20 years, he said, 16 city police officers have died in the line of duty. Just since 2010, another six officers have been shot but survived.
“The events of this weekend, the tragedy that we’re suffering through today as a family and as a community, demonstrates that time and time again, yes, there’s evil, there’s tragedy in the world,” Landrieu said. “But this is what we know: There’s 10 times more good, a hundred times more love.”
Hunter had three sisters in law enforcement, including one who continues to serve in the NOPD.
“In front of us right now is an incredible family that is living and leaving a great legacy, a family that has demonstrated a commitment to community,” Landrieu said.
Hunter joined the department in December 2004. Landrieu said he had been told her first day of active duty came during the response to Hurricane Katrina eight months later.
“She didn’t know how to swim, but she didn’t run away,” Landrieu said. “She ran to where everybody needed her help.”
Police Superintendent Michael Harrison, too, gave thanks for Hunter’s service on the force. Citing the New Testament, he called Hunter a “peacemaker.”
As he had at a memorial on Wednesday, Harrison reflected on the coincidence that Hunter was killed by a suspected drunken driver at a time when she was in line to join the NOPD’s DWI enforcement unit. But he also touched on Hunter’s lighter side and personal life.
As the mourners entered the church Monday morning, they were treated to a parade of pictures on video screens from Hunter’s life. Many were selfies that she took while she was wearing her department uniform.
“I’m absolutely sure that right now in heaven, if she had a cellphone,” Harrison said, pausing to hold up a phone of his own, “she’d be taking a selfie. After giving God praise, of course.”
The audience laughed.
After Harrison spoke, 1st District officers began filing out of the church. They were going back to their Basin Street station to stand at attention, again, as the hearse carrying their colleague’s body passed by on its way to Providence Memorial Park for her burial.
But first, Bishop J. Douglas Wiley Taylor delivered Hunter’s eulogy. Pointing to her service to the city, he declared his belief that she was watching down on the mourners from heaven. As he spoke, another one of Monday’s many thunderclaps clattered through the air.
“Y’all hear that thunder?” he asked. “That’s Natasha telling me, ‘I made it, bishop.’ ”