THIS WEEK: A memorial service unlike any other is being planned for Fair Lawn Police Officer Mary Ann Collura, who was shot and killed coming to the aid of a fellow officer trying to arrest a murderous ex-con a decade ago.
Each year a memorial is held on that date, April 17, at that spot – the Van Riper Ellis Broadway Baptist Church on River Road.
This year’s commemoration involves a wreath-laying at a memorial for Collura at Borough Hall (see statue, above), followed by a procession to the church and a candlelight vigil featuring glowsticks – a signature of the popular officer, who gave them to youngsters in town.
Then, on April 20, a concert will be held at the church (see invitation, below).
“Obviously this date has extra special meaning for me as her fellow officer and friend,” Fair Lawn Detective David Boone, who is also a minister at Van Riper Ellis, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT. “This is where she made the ultimate sacrifice.”
The 18-year veteran was Fair Lawn’s first female police officer and a shining light throughout the community. So it seemed entirely fitting that while on the force she established a program to give elementary school children glow sticks to wear at night for safety. The memorial statue outside police headquarters depicts Collura giving the sticks to a group of youngsters.
Still, that doesn’t even begin to tell the type of officer she was — respected, admired, loved — especially working in what can be a rough-and-tumble town.
“I have often reflected on the timing and the location of this horrible moment in time,” said Boone, the founder and past president of the Officer Mary Ann Collura Memorial Scholarship Foundation, “and yet I am also comforted by the fact that it happened during Holy Week, which brings hope and peace to countless numbers of people all over the world.”
There have been beautifully touching memorials held and lovely monuments erected. Collura has a street, a rifle range and a post office, among other locations, named after her.
Her badge number, 136, is a familiar sight around town and beyond.
“She’s not just missed by the police department,” former Fair Lawn Police Chief Erik Rose told CLIFFVIEW PILOT last year. “She’s missed by everyone. What she did while she was here affected people’s lives.”
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, those 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 cop 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 cop, 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 — small consolation, given Fair Lawn‘s tremendous loss.
“Mary was the person who got things done for others, even when she was never asked to do so,” Fair Lawn Police Sgt. Richard Schultz said. “She was born to protect and serve. More often than not, she would hear of someone having an issue and she would just simply hand that person a piece of paper with a name and telephone number scribbled on it.
“All she would say is call that number and tell them Mary told you to call. Then without them knowing, she would call that person and tell them to take care of this particular resident.
“When I see a child carrying a glow stick, I am reminded of her.”
MORE INFO: www.fairlawnpbalocal67.com
PHOTOS: Courtesy www.MAC136