TRIBUTE: Fair Lawn Police Officer Mary Ann Collura’s brother, two sisters and other friends, loved ones and colleagues watched with pride this afternoon as a portrait of the slain veteran was hung in a borough courtroom as part of this year’s 11th annual remembrance service at the Municipal Building.
Patricia Snyder, Linda Hughes and Paul Collura joined nearly 75 people in honoring Collura, who was gunned down on the grounds of the Van Riper Ellis Broadway Baptist Church on River Road after coming to the aid of a fellow officer trying to arrest a murderous ex-con a decade ago.
Then, as today, it was Holy Thursday.
Fair Lawn Police Chief Glen Cauwels made opening remarks, and a blessing was given by Fair Lawn Detective David Boone, who is also a minister at Van Riper Ellis.
“As time goes by, it doesn’t get any less emotional for us,” Boone later told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.
The gold-framed portrait, which had been at PBA headquarters, was hung behind the dais in the council chambers by the Fair Lawn Police Honor Guard as the attendees observed a moment of silence.
VIDEO by DOUGLAS HABER
“Today isn’t just a day to remember her sacrifice but to remember what she did for each and every one of us,” fellow Officer Michael O’Brien told CLIFFVIEW PILOT. “So much has been left inside of us because of what she’s done.”
O’Brien recalled a time when ne was riding bikes with a friend in a wooded area when he was 15.
Police had been having trouble with some undesirables in the area, and Collura stopped them both.
“She checked us out until she knew that we were good to go,” he said, laughing. “I saw her a few days later, and she said, ‘Weren’t you …?’
“She may have been stern with us, but she had a heart of gold.”
Time has only strengthened memories of Collura, an 18-year veteran who was Fair Lawn’s first female police officer and a shining light throughout the community.
Her badge number, 136, is a familiar sight around town and beyond.
Collura was respected, admired and loved. Her commendation file contained a letter citing her professionalism from a motorist she’d ticketed.
She has a street, a rifle range and a post office, among other locations, named after her.
A lifelong borough resident, Collura attended William Paterson College.
She was so dedicated to public service that she nearly joined the Army before volunteering with the borough’s police reserves.
Three years later, she was in uniform with the Fair Lawn Police Department.
“I wanted to be on the road, taking it as it comes,” Collura once said, explaining her reason for becoming an officer.
The words still haunt those who loved her, many who still visit her grave in George Washington Memorial Park.
A Clifton colleague was chasing a speeding ex-con on Route 46 when the pursuit headed into Fair Lawn.
Collura was on her way when the driver — a 23-year-old drug dealer from Passaic named Omar Marti — lost control of his car, which ended up on the lawn of the church.
Marti tried to run, but the Clifton officer tackled him and was trying to pepper-spray him when Collura arrived.
Marti, desperate not to go back to prison, pulled a gun and fired, hitting Collura twice.
He then shot the other officer, got behind the wheel of Collura’s cruiser and drove over her while speeding off.
She was only 43.
Investigators from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office traced Marti to a town just outside Tampa, Fla., where he was killed in a shootout with area sheriff’s officers.
Today’s remembrance began with the “Pledge of Allegiance” before the portrait by Michael Malzone of Pompton Lakes was hung. It closed with many singing “God Bless America.” Also played was a song written in Collura’s honor called “The Ultimate Sacrifice.”
Boone read a poem, “Thank You, Officer,” that speaks to the day-to-day love, caring and consideration shown by the most dedicated public servants. He also quoted from President Kennedy’s 1961 “ask not what your country can do for you” inaugural address.
“That was Mary Ann,” Boone told CLIFFVIEW PILOT. “She embodied that. She cared for so many people. That’s why we still care so much for her.”
TOP PHOTO: Courtesy FAIR LAWN P.O. MICHAEL O’BRIEN