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August 18, 2019

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Longtime Metro officer Larry Burns, who wanted to do ‘right by everyone,’ remembered for good works

Larry Burns Memorial Service

Steve Marcus

Luke Burns, son of former Metro Police Capt. Larry Burns Jr., speaks about his father during a memorial service at the Smith Center Thursday, July 18, 2019.

Updated Friday, July 19, 2019 | 7:02 a.m.

Larry Burns Memorial Service

Long-time friend Dennis Flynn touches the casket during a memorial service for former Metro Police Capt. Larry Burns Jr. at the Smith Center Thursday, July 18, 2019. Flynn is a former Metro Police lieutenant. Launch slideshow »

Knowing baby Aubrey would only live a few hours outside of her mother’s womb, Larry Burns gathered the infant's older siblings around the hospital room. Burns squared his shoulders, and through tears, blessed the newborn.

As tragic as that day in 1995 was, the Metro Police veteran grasped the opportunity to teach his children about love, resilience and faith.

The family again shed tears Thursday as they bid farewell to Larry Burns, their beloved patriarch, who died unexpectedly in his sleep a week earlier. He was 61.

Hundreds of mourners packed the Reynolds Hall at the Smith Center to honor the retired Metro captain, who narrowly lost a bid for Clark County Sheriff in 2014. Few seats were open during the public ceremony, and sniffles broke through the large, and quiet venue as Burns was remembered by his children, and others close to him. Metro personnel in their tan and green uniforms were peppered throughout the auditorium.

Luke Burns spoke about his father’s tenderness.

He recalled that one day in his youth when father and son were alone at home. “Hey boy, why don’t you order a pizza,” the elder Burns said. A simple meal morphed into a deep conversation about life, with the Larry Burns on the verge of breaking down. “I just want to do right by you, boy,” Luke recalled his father saying.

A public servant with love for humanity, Burns wanted to “do right” by everyone, his son said. Whether he was talking to a dignitary, a store clerk, a stranger or a dangerous suspect, it didn’t matter to Burns. He treated everyone the same — with respect and compassion.

Luke’s speech, delivered from a lectern facing his father’s American-Flag draped shiny silver casket, was particularly difficult, he said. For one, he could always lean on Larry Burns when preparing for a speaking arrangement, or during difficult times. Certainly, delivering a eulogy for his father in front of an audience of hundreds would not be an easy feat.

But he carried on, composing himself when he choked up. “He was unparalleled,” Luke Burns said. “He was a giant and we’ll all miss him dearly.”

Alexis Dessau remembered how hours before Burns died she and her sisters jumped into their parents’ bed like they did as little girls. They told stories and joked. Their mother unknowingly took their last photo together. “You know how much I love you, right, sister?” the father said around 1 a.m.

Burns died in his sleep from a medical condition sometime soon after.

Daughter Aliza Burns returned home from a months-long church mission the day before her father died. Burns was waiting for her at the airport, she said. Once they hugged, he wouldn’t let go, she added, noting she was grateful to spend time with her father in his last hours.

Burns is credited with reducing crime in the Historic Westside during his tenure at the Bolden Area Command substation through community policing and with the help of faith leaders. When a Department of Justice interviewer asked him for his secret behind the success of the Safe Village Initiative, which positively transformed the crime riddled Sherman Gardens housing complex, Burns told the man he wouldn’t believe it.

“I’ll tell you, but you won’t print it,” said Burns, according to his close friend and Metro colleague, Dennis Flynn: “Love.”

Flynn remembered Burns as an exemplary leader who gave everyone and anyone his undivided attention as if they were the “center of the universe.”

In a raid of a meth house, a suspect barricading himself in a backroom. Anticipating that the door would be kicked in, the man had sandwiched glass between the wooden door to stall anyone trying to make entry by cutting their leg arteries, Flynn said. Burns’ six sense gave him pause and he instead shouldered his way in to make a safe arrest.

Only a small wooden piece hung from the hinges, Flynn said. “What happened to the door?”

“It was locked,” Burns replied.

Later as a SWAT commander, Burns sought peaceful resolutions before the use of force. “If that guy does something,” he would say about suspects, according to Flynn. “I have my plan. But I want you to understand, as bad as he is, that is still somebody’s son, they deserve your best, and you’re going to give it to them.”

At the end of the service, a Metro color guard surrounded the casket, lifted the U.S. flag and meticulously folded it into a triangle, inspecting it for any kinks. An officer played a somber melody with a trumpet. Three volleys of fire outside reverberated inside during a 21-gun salute.

Bag pipes droned a rendition of “Amazing Grace”, and the casket — followed by the family members — was escorted outside. Hundreds remained indoors moments later as a collage of photos showed the beloved cop in various stages of his life.