Thousands of mourners in Seaford on Friday paid their respects to ATF agent and native son John Capano, but his 15-year-old daughter's written message most poignantly captured the tragedy of the New Year's Eve shooting that took his life.
"My Dad is a hero, because of everything he has done for others, no matter the size," Natalie Capano wrote in a letter printed with the funeral program.
"It wasn't just the final act that made my Dad a hero, it was everything he did throughout his life."
She recalled how he shoveled snow for neighbors, gave rides to those in need, and helped care for his ailing mother, who died last month.
"Just by having Dad present in any situation, we were all a little safer," wrote the sophomore at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip. "Although it was his job to keep others safe, it was also in his blood . . . By doing what he did best, Dad saved so many lives every day for people who couldn't have possibly known."
The funeral attracted an estimated 6,000 mourners, many of them law enforcement officials, including ATF agents who flew in from as far away as California. Police and agents lined the street outside St. William the Abbot Roman Catholic Church for several blocks.
During the two-hour service, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder delivered one of the eulogies, calling Capano, 51, a "true patriot" who stood out, even among elite law enforcement officials. "It wasn't just the badge he wore that made John Capano a hero, or even the actions he took in his final moments -- when John stepped up, as he had so many times before, to protect the community and the people he loved," Holder told mourners inside the church.
"It wasn't just the way he died that makes him an example to all of us -- it was the way he lived," Holder said. "It was his eagerness . . . to fight every day to make this nation safer and more secure. And it was the devotion he showed to his family."
Capano's older brother, James, said the family understands the actions of an off-duty NYPD officer and a retired Nassau County police lieutenant who responded to the robbery the off-duty Capano was trying to stop at Charlie's Family Pharmacy in Seaford.
Amid the chaos of a scuffle between Capano and the robbery suspect, James McGoey, the retired officer, Christopher Geraghty, 54, of Woodbury, mistakenly believed Capano was the robber and fatally shot him, according to Geraghty's attorney.
"We all know I could stand up here and talk for hours about John," James Capano said.
"Let us not forget others responded that day to stop a crime," he said. "Please remember, they have family and acted as John did. However this turns out, I ask that we pray for them, too."
John Capano, a 23-year veteran of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who also went on missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, was the first ATF agent to be killed by gunfire in the since the raid on a religious cult compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993.
Capano's widow, Dori, 55, an IRS agent, and the couple's son, John, 18, a freshman at Northeastern University in Boston, joined Natalie in accompanying Capano's coffin in and out of the church.
Dori Capano, grief-stricken, clung to Capano's father, James, a retired NYPD detective, as she left the church. John and Natalie wore their father's ATF badges around their necks.
On the lawn outside the church, a large Nativity scene was still on display. Inside, Christmas wreaths hung on the walls and a banner read: "John is at peace in the arms of the Lord."
But nearly a week after the shooting, the ATF and many in Seaford remain stunned. "I'm still in shock. I'm still trying to figure this out," said ATF agent Gerry O'Sullivan, who knew Capano for 15 years and traveled from Buffalo. "John did what most trained law enforcement officers would do. And he did what he thought was best in protecting the public from violent criminals."
As Capano's coffin was carried to a hearse waiting outside the church, a formation of eight police helicopters flew overhead.
Later, at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, the coffin -- draped with an American flag -- was lowered into the ground.
Family, friends and co-workers said their final farewells as bagpipes wailed.
With Robert Kessler, Kery Murakami, Gary Dymski
and Ted Scala