Officer Down: In Memory of Noah Aaron Leotta
In memory of Officer Noah Aaron Leotta (1991-2015)
End of Watch: December 10, 2015
When a police officer is killed, it's not an agency that loses an officer, it's an entire nation." -Chris Cosg
When I arrived at the Leotta home to facilitate a shiva minyan, the signs of sorrow were everywhere. On this balmy but dismal December day, every leafless neighborhood tree was wrapped up with shimmering blue ribbons. Police cars dominated the suburban streets where Noah had learned to ride his bike, and where he had decided to become a cop. Leotta served the Montgomery County precinct for three years and was one of the first to sign up for this year’s special holiday task force to combat drunken driving. While issuing a ticket to a speeding drunk driver, Officer Leotta was fatally struck by another intoxicated motorist.
When someone dies in Jewish tradition, shomrim-watchmen- stay with the deceased until the burial. After the burial, the mourners go back home without their beloved and grieve. For the next seven days during shiva they are not alone. People come in and out of their home to offer their condolences and to tell stories about the departed one. The prayers commingle with the tears.
From the moment that Noah Leotta was struck down, the police force became Noah’s guardian angels. They descended in open file to perform their earthly duties . They surrounded Noah’s lifeless body in the hospital and then, after several days, they reluctantly brought him to the cemetery, his final resting place. Before, during and after the funeral, Noah’s fellow officers continued to shield the family from the pain and suffering of losing one’s son, brother, grandson, cousin, roommate, friend and co-worker.
Although no longer able to protect Noah from danger and death, the men in blue were present during the shiva. These young patrolmen became the shomrim-watchmen- for the living. Like God, they stayed on duty 24/7 for the Leotta family.
“When I can’t sleep,” Noah’s father told me, “I get dressed and go outside to the waiting police car where I sit and talk. These guys have helped me sleep walk through this nightmare.”
After a tragedy, people ask me, “Where is God?” Today, at this shiva minyan, It was easy to feel God amidst the broken-hearted. I looked outside the window and saw the blue and white patrol car. Inside sat the watchmen waiting to be called. For them and for God there is never an end to the Watch.
God will not slumber or sleep, writes the Psalmist. Now, I fully grasp its truth.