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Police chief is laid to rest

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ROOSEVELT — Drops from a spontaneous summer rainstorm mixed with the tears of the some 1,000 people who gathered Tuesday in this tiny town to bid farewell to a hometown hero.

Flanked by law enforcement brethren in death as he was in life, hundreds of officers from five states accompanied the body of Roosevelt Police Chief Cecil Gurr to his final resting place in the Roosevelt Memorial Park.

Gurr, 50, was slain Friday after responding to a domestic dispute in a neighboring eastern Utah town.

Family and friends memorialized the 27-year veteran of the Roosevelt City Police Department as a humble man prone to quiet reflection and unending service to his community.

The task wasn't easy, even for Gurr's family and closest friends.

"How can I possibly stand up here and sum up the life of the greatest person I've ever known?" said Gurr's eldest son, Dax. "He was my rock and my support. Most of all he was my hero."

Gurr's dedication to others is best shown in an act completed the day he died, his son said. After eating lunch with friends, Gurr noticed an elderly man with failing eyesight groping for the handrail leading into the restaurant. Without a word, Gurr took the man's hand and placed it on the rail.

"This was a story of my father," Dax Gurr said. "As powerful and as great as he was, he had the compassion of an angel.

"He was a man of the greatest strength I've ever known." he said. "He wasn't a loud man, except for when he saw injustice. Then he didn't speak, he acted."

Gurr dedicated his career to fighting the onslaught of drug-related crime infiltrating the Uinta Basin, said John Gardner, Gurr's assistant chief of police for 23 years.

Few people truly knew Gurr, Gardner said of the man he described as "my chief, my friend and my brother."

"We stood together in the joys of the births of our children. We stood together in the pains of the deaths of our loved ones," Gardner said. "But most of all, we stood together in the fight against crime and tried to protect the lives of the people of the town we grew up in.

"Cecil died serving his fellow man. This assemblage here today is a testimony to that service," Gardner said.

Mourners filled the auditorium of a meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to capacity, with late-comers listening from overflow areas in nearby rooms and hallways.

Gardner retired from the police force two weeks ago and was on vacation in California when he received news of Gurr's death.

"It was as if the sidewalk had been wrenched out from underneath me," Gardner said. "I cussed the thankless, underpaid job of police work . . . and then I cursed the man who could take my friend's life away."

It was the first and only mention of the man accused of firing the fatal bullet. Just hours after the funeral ended, prosecutors charged Lee Roy Wood, 35, Vernal, with capital murder, three counts of first-degree felony attempted murder and two other felony charges related to the incident. The Uintah County Attorney's Office will seek the death penalty against Wood, Chief Deputy Attorney Ken Wallentine said in court Tuesday.

Gardner paid tribute to Gurr's wife of 28 years, Lynette Wells Gurr, and praised her strength in living "every officer's wife's nightmare."

He also reminded those gathered in tribute that Gurr will never be truly gone.

"As long as there's a war to be fought against crime . . . his heart and soul will be here among us," Gardner said. "When the children smile or giggle for some unknown reason, he will be there. I say to you fellow officers, when you feel a presence behind you backing you up, he will be there."

Although tragic, Gurr's line-of-duty death was not unthinkable to his youngest son, 19-year-old Slade.

"Believe it or not, in my mind I've pictured this many times," Slade Gurr said. "It's exactly the way I've seen it. The past few days my family has been as close to hell that is humanly possible.

"It is not only my father that I bury this day, but my best friend."

Contributing: Will Bettmann

E-mail: awelling@desnews.com