Final farewell: Family and friends pay tribute to fallen Cleveland detective, reflect on his life

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — The funeral for a Cleveland police detective hit especially hard for the honor guard involved in the ceremony since he had also served with that unit for decades.

On Friday, we saw the final goodbyes for James Skernivitz, who was shot to death last week while working undercover.

Honor guard officers carried his body knowing he had walked alongside them at dozens of other police funerals.

“We did so much together, it’s hard when we’re carrying one of our own especially one of the guys in our own unit,” said Sgt. Bo Diaz.

Cleveland Police Det. James Skernivitz

He added, “He probably worked at least 80 funerals, if not more, of retirees and active duty who died in the line of duty.”

Now the honor guard is giving James Skernivitz the send-off given to so many others.

The ceremony included a riderless horse, a 21-gun salute and more.

Relatives of police families and others lined the streets for the funeral procession.

“They leave in the morning. They don’t know if they’re gonna come home at night,” said Louise Carbone.

The community, the officer’s family, fellow officers and even the US Attorney General gathered for the funeral.

Due to the size and concerns about social distancing with the COVID-19 outbreak, the service was moved from a church to the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Attorney General William Barr said, “I am honored to be here to pay tribute to an American hero, Detective James Skernivitz.” He added, “Once again, he volunteered, and once again, he made a difference. I witnessed first-hand the superb work he and his colleagues were doing.”

“Badge number 2249 will always live in the hearts and minds of the people in this city and his brothers and sisters in the division of police,” said Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams.

Outside the arena, even more people gathered and spoke out.

“We need to support each other in this time of tragedy ,” said Sandusky Detective Kevin Youskievicz.

The father of Justin Leo, a police officer who was killed in the line of duty in Girard in 2017, also attended. 

He said, “It’s always an overcast day when it happens.” He added, “We have to absolutely be here for them. We need to support his family.”

Officer Skernivitz left behind a wife and grown children. His wife wrote a letter that was read during the funeral calling the man known as ‘Skern’ irreplaceable.

Three teen suspects are facing charges for the officer’s death. Two juveniles and a young adult. Investigators believe the shooting happened during an attempted robbery.

Going forward, Detective Skernivitz also will be remembered in ways he helped remember others. He will have his name added to the Greater Cleveland Peace Officers Memorial downtown. He even had made trips to Washington DC for national police memorial ceremonies.

Sergeant Diaz described James Skernivitz as, “Always smiling. Smile on his face. Always made us laugh.”

Cleveland police detective James Skernivitz
Cleveland police detective James Skernivitz (courtesy: Cleveland Division of Police)

Not easy laughing at a time like this. But the honor guard officers remembered a friend the way they knew him best. And, they did it while saying goodbye the best way they know how.

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