LOS ANGELES, April 14, 2010 -- Bus lines were rerouted and downtown streets were shut during the morning rush hour Tuesday for the funeral procession of a Los Angeles police officer and Marine who was killed in Afghanistan last month.
Robert J. Cottle, 45, is the first Los Angeles Police Department officer to be killed in combat since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. He was a leader in the LAPD's elite SWAT team and a sergeant major in the Marine Corps Reserve. He had been deployed on active duty since August 2009.
More than 400 Marines and LAPD officers escorted the flag-draped casket for the half-mile procession from police headquarters to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Cottle's wife Emily, a naval officer, walked behind the horse-drawn wagon bearing the casket. In her arms was the couple's 9-month-old daughter Kaila Jane.
Known to most as "RJ," Cottle was killed on March 24 in the Marja area of southern Afghanistan when his armored vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device. Also killed was 19-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Rick J. Centanni. Both lived in Yorba Linda, Calif., and were stationed with the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, out of Camp Pendleton. Two other Marines were seriously injured.
"RJ's passing will leave a hole that cannot be filled," said a visibly moved LAPD Chief Charlie Beck at a private memorial service attended by more than a thousand people. "But it also leaves a resolve to be more like RJ."
Beck knew Cottle for more than 20 years and said he considered him "a dear, dear friend."
Cottle enlisted in the Marines at age 18. After serving in various regions overseas, in 1990 he decided to go into the reserves and become a police officer. He joined the SWAT team six years later. This was his third tour of duty. He twice served in Iraq.
At the memorial service, Cottle was posthumously honored with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his service.
Cottle's family were expecting him home in late May. His older sister Bonnie Roybal was one of several speakers at the service.
Friend: Cottle Was a 'Hero for the Way He Lived'
"I know he is watching over all of us from heaven," Roybal said. "I feel him most just before I doze off to sleep at night and when I gaze in the big, blue eyes of his baby girl."
Tributes for Cottle poured into a message board on the Los Angeles Times Web site honoring California's war dead.
"You couldn't help liking the guy, his infectious laugh, zest for life, skills as a cop, he had it all," wrote Jim Kaiser, who remembered meeting Cottle on the first day of police academy. "He is not a hero for the way he died, he was a hero for the way he lived."
Cottle's body will be transported Wednesday to Washington, D.C. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.