Testimonials and tributes pour in for slain Delaware police officer

Joseph Szczerba, the first New Castle County police officer to die in the line of duty in almost 40 years, was described by his former chief as a “cop’s cop.”

The website “Officer Down” has made the death of Sgt. Szczerba the main item on its home page.

Rick Gregory is now the police chief of Provo, Utah. He remembers his time working with the officer.

He wrote that Szczerba was “(the) best field supervisors I ever had the privilege to work with. Joe lead from the front, was always in the trenches with his team, and never left until the job was done.”

“Joe possessed the warrior mindset – meaning he was always mentally and physically ready to put his life on the line to protect the citizens and his brother and sister officers. I had the honor of promoting Joe to sergeant and the privilege to have worked with Joe and to call him my friend.”

Salesianum High School held an impromptu memorial service Friday at the end of the school day. The slain officer graduated from the school in 1985.

Math teacher Dan Kegelman described him as “”genuine” and nice to everyone.

A four-year football player at Salesianum, Joseph earned Second Team All-State honors in his senior year while playing offensive guard. His former coach, Jim Brazil, recalled that he played up to the standards set by three older brothers who also went to the school.

Sgt. Szczerba’s nephew, Andrew Szczerba is a 5th year senior playing tight end at Penn State. He was scheduled to start today’s game at Lincoln Financial field against Temple University.

The New Castle County Police Department says Sgt. Szczerba joined the force in 1994. He was promoted to sergeant in January 2008. He had received two citations for homicide investigations and one other for burglary investigation.

There were many police officers and their families who wrote about Sgt. Szczerba on the “Officer Down” website. One was a childhood friend who expressed shock. Others were members of other Delaware police departments.

One, though was signed “Lisa, Delaware resident.” She wrote, “You can shed tears that he is gone, or you can smile because he has lived. You can close your eyes and pray that he’ll come back, or you can open your eyes and see all he’s left. Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him, or you can be full of the love you shared. You can turn your back on tomorrow and live… yesterday, or you… can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday. You can remember him only that he is gone, or you can cherish his memory and let it live on. You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back. Or you can do what he’d want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”

Governor Jack Markell has ordered flags flown at half staff until further notice. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.