RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – A fallen hero is being honored Wednesday, a hero who gave his life protecting the streets of Rio Rancho. It was completely silent outside the Santa Ana Star Center as the hearse carrying Officer Gregg Benner’s flag draped casket arrived. Fellow officers then slowly carried him inside where a sea of community members and fellow officers were waiting to honor him.
A procession will follow an emotional memorial service in a packed Santa Ana Star Center. It was filled with community members, family, and fellow officers from across the country. It was a ceremony with full honors for the man whose life was taken doing his dream job of being a police officer.
Led by the playing of bag pipes, one by one, family, friends and fellow officers streamed into the Santa Ana Star Center to say goodbye to Officer Gregg Benner. With slide shows of Benner’s life on a big screen, many were able to see his devotion to the time he spent in the air force, time as a police officer and to the family he loved dearly.
In his work as a Rio Rancho police officer, Benner was said to have handled all calls with kindness, respect and compassion. His roots from England were well recognized by those who spoke about him from his English sense of humor and way of speaking to the British siren he used in his cruiser. It was also noted that he used the word “cheers” to end radio transmissions as opposed to the standard 10-4. Many also spoke about his devotion to the youth of Rio Rancho.
It was his decision to become a police officer after leaving the Air Force that stood out as the perfect example of who he was.
A letter from U.S. Attorney General was also read at the funeral noting Officer Benner’s service in the Air Force and for making the ultimate sacrifice as a police officer in Rio Rancho.
Messages from the governor and those close to Benner were shared.
“My deepest condolences on behalf of my family and the entire state of New Mexico,” said Gov. Susana Martinez.
His brother also shared his heart-felt goodbye.
“I will miss you Gregg dearly, I love you. I will see you someday and we will ride again. God speed,” said Officer Benner’s brother Paul Tolzmann.
The man behind the badge
Officer Gregg Benner left a lasting impression on his fellow officers and the community of Rio Rancho. Some who never knew the fallen officer say he was a hero.
Officer Benner’s impact on the city of Rio Rancho will be everlasting. It was in Rio Rancho where he put his badge on everyday and patrolled the streets serving and protecting the community he called home.
It was a second career for him. Officer Benner was also a veteran serving 22-years in the Air Force.
He was also a husband, father and grandfather. His wife, children, grandchildren and more on the way will say goodbye but they won’t be alone. His family says the man who was always smiling and always caring had a pleasant demeanor both on and off the job, and that’s what won over so many who knew him.
Community members pay their respects
The memorial and the processional route is filled with people who wanted to honor Officer Benner. Most waved flags, others held hand made signs with heartfelt messages like “We will never forget” and “Rio Rancho Police Strong.”
There’s been an incredible outpouring of support in the days leading up to Thursday’s ceremony. The main place where people have been paying their respects is the roadside memorial in Rio Rancho near where Officer Benner was shot.
Flags, flowers, and even police cars are being placed inside the fence there. Daniels Funeral home in Rio Rancho also saw a steady stream of people during Wednesday’s public visitation.
People were asked to bring stuffed animals instead of flowers. The police department says officers will keep them in their cars and give them to children in need.
Parents honoring the officer with their children said it was an opportunity to teach them how important it is to stand together.
“While it was definitely a tragedy, it shows how the community comes together and honors Officer Benner and those he serves with as well, so there’s so much love you can feel amount this route today'” said resident Jennifer Johnson.
Officer Benner’s Final Dispatch
A massive line of family followed close behind as Officer Benner left the Star Center for his final dispatch.
Hundreds of citizens lined the streets as the procession made its way through the city Officer Benner died protecting.