Taking the final ride

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 25, 2012



METAIRIE – Family, friends, colleagues and other law enforcement officials came together Wednesday morning to celebrate the life and honor the memory of St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Nielsen as he was laid to rest.

Equal amounts of grief, humor and tradition permeated the funeral service and memorial ceremony that followed as family members and fellow deputies shared stories about the big, burly cop who was always known as a playful cut-up on the inside. He was also described as a devoted family man and dedicated police officer who loved being at the helm of his motorcycle.

The morning began with a procession of law enforcement from around the state, which traveled from LaPlace to Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home. The seemingly endless string of motorcycle police officers and civilian motorcycle enthusiasts joined with other law enforcement units to create a mass of vehicles that shut down more than 24 miles of interstate highway.

Nielsen, 34, was one of two St. John Parish Sheriff’s deputies killed in an ambush-style shooting on Aug. 16 in LaPlace. Similar services for Deputy Jeremy Triche, 28, were held Monday in LaPlace.

Two other deputies were seriously injured in the shooting and remain hospitalized. Seven suspects, some of whom are said to have ties to a domestic anti-government movement, have been arrested and charged in the shootings.

Hundreds of law enforcement officials from St. John Parish and surrounding areas stood beside Nielsen’s family and friends in the packed funeral home chapel. Gov. Bobby Jindal, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, St. John Sheriff Mike Tregre and State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson came to offer condolences to Nielsen’s wife, Daniell, his parents, his sister and his five children.

While hundreds packed the chapel for the service, those who could not get inside mingled on the lawn of the funeral home, where a stirring memorial service was being arranged at the foot of the Louisiana Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, which includes the names of policemen who gave their lives in the line of duty.

Prior to the start of the funeral, Nielsen’s cousin Thom Cameron talked about growing up with his older cousin.

“We rode our bikes together pretending we were ‘Ponch’ and ‘John’ from the television show ‘CHiPs,’” Cameron said. “He wanted to grow up to be a California highway patrolman.

“He loved his motorcycles, but it wasn’t always about being an officer. He did so many charity rides. It is an honor to know him like I do.”

Cameron said the ceremony, the funeral, and the procession were a fitting tribute to how Nielsen lived his life.

“To shut down a 24-mile stretch of interstate for him speaks volumes about the kind of person he was,” Cameron said. “He was a hero to many people.”

Inside the chapel mourners were treated to a slideshow of photographs documenting Nielsen’s life. During the service, family members shared laughs and stories.

Nielsen’s father Steve, a former police officer, told a story that shed a little light on his son’s future in law enforcement. He said one morning Brandon decided to take a .357-caliber bullet to school for show-and-tell. He said Brandon ended up getting suspended from school for a week.

Many attendees inside and outside the chapel wore sparkling band-aids throughout the day. Cameron explained the bandage was a tribute concocted by Nielsen’s 6-year-old daughter Lily as a way to help her mother’s broken heart.

“When deputies came to notify the family, Lily took a band-aid and put it on her mother’s heart,” Cameron said. “She said it was a magic band-aid and that it will help her heart. Since then it became a tradition”

When the chapel service ended, the assembled masses gathered on the lawn, where officers stood at attention and saluted as bagpipers played while fellow motorcycle officers escorted Nielsen’s casket to the memorial.

Honor guard from St. John and St. Charles parishes folded the American flag draped over the coffin and presented it to Nielsen’s wife. Other flags were presented to his mother, Wendy, and his oldest daughter, Gabby.

On the lawn, Edmonson spoke about the unity of law enforcement members and what it means to suit up every day in the name of community protection.

“It’s not about the shape of the badge or the color of the uniform,” Edmonson said. “It is about who we are and what Brandon still is. We are police officers. We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the street corners and cheer and wave as the real heroes, like Brandon, pass by.”

After a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps” by a bugler and “Amazing Grace” by the bagpipers, Nielsen received his last call. Headquarters tried to reach him three times. Receiving no answer, he was declared 10-7 — a police term meaning end of watch.