KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) - As the casket of fallen Kalamazoo Public Safety Officer Eric Zapata passed beneath an American flag and through the heart of downtown Kalamazoo, Melissa Bowen stood along Michigan Avenue.
"There's no reason for not coming out to honor somebody that was brave enough to protect us," said Bowen, who hopes to serve alongside the police officers and firefighters she watched.
The Parchment woman was in a criminal justice class last week when she heard an officer had been shot and killed.
"Honestly, the first thing that hit my mind is, this could happen to me in 10 years," she said.
Zapata, a 35-year-old father of three, was shot and killed while responding to a shots fired call on the city's south side.
Bowen, a mother of three, said the shooting will not deter her from becoming an officer.
"I wouldn't want to leave my family," she said. "But at the same time, [Zapata] was protecting hundreds of families in the Kalamazoo area."
It was that protection that struck Chan Pratt, who leaned on his son for comfort as he watched the procession along Michigan Avenue near Rose Street. Pratt works to find criminal suspects who don't make their court appearances. He said he knew Zapata.
"I was overtaken by the fact that these brave men and women do this every day -- 24 hours a day -- without even thinking about it. And they do it because they love what they do, they love their community and they love ... donning that uniform every day and making sure that you and I are safe."
The procession was one of a string of tributes across Kalamazoo. Signs stood outside of businesses. One at Heinz Schroeder's nightclub read "to protect and serve."
"And I think that's lost on a lot of people. They think that [officers] are handing out speeding tickets or they're doing all this other stuff," Schroeder said. "But they're actually policing the community. They're part of the community. Their families are here. Their children are here. And you have to embrace them just like you would anybody else."
The business owner said he knows a number of the city's public safety officers.
"We talk and I know what they go through," he said. "It's a tough job."
At Kalamazoo College's iconic Stetson Chapel, the bell rang to honor Zapata at 11 a.m. College admissions employee Mary Wynne -- along with other staff and students -- stood in silence.
"Just out of respect for the young man," Wynne said. "He ended up giving his life for the city."
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