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2,000 Pay Tribute to Officer

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

As one of the wounded officers who tried to save him looked on, Glendale Police Investigator Charles Lazzaretto was remembered Monday as the best his department had to offer, a man who would have become chief had he not been ambushed by a suicidal gunman last Tuesday.

About 2,000 people, including police officers from across California, attended services for Lazzaretto, the 30-year-old father of two small boys, who was shot in a Chatsworth warehouse while investigating a domestic violence case.

“He was . . . the essence of what a police officer is supposed to be,” said Glendale Police Chief James E. Anthony.

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The memorial followed a private service earlier in the day, in which Cardinal Roger M. Mahony comforted Lazzaretto’s widow, Annamaria Lazzaretto, a part-time police dispatcher whom he met on the job.

Also present were LAPD Officers Kevin Foster, 24, and Jude Bella, 26, who were shot while trying to rescue Lazzaretto. Bella, who was shot five times, was transported to the private ceremony in an ambulance, and then whisked back to the hospital. Foster, who was shot in the arm, sat through both services.

Lazzaretto’s death has been felt deeply in the small police department in which he worked, and in Glendale, which has not seen an officer slain since 1915.

“When it’s a policeman, you feel it’s a good friend,” said Jean Ogawa, 74, a Glendale resident who joined a somber crowd lining the route of the procession from Incarnation Catholic Church in Glendale to Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills, where the funeral was held.

“I am very depressed,” said Sophia Hearty, 50, as she watched the silent mourners go by. “Here I’m just working as a bookkeeper. But he was a policeman. He was out protecting people. And now he’s dead,” she said.

“You always look back and say, ‘Why?,’ ” said 63-year-old Dorothy Meyer.

Tightly clutching the hand of Lazzaretto’s mother, Nan, Annamaria Lazzaretto took several deep breaths as she watched the casket born into the Liberty Court at Forest Lawn. As she waited to enter, she variously sobbed and smiled at the police officers who came to comfort her.

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Lazzaretto and his partner, Investigator Art Frank, had gone to a Chatsworth warehouse seeking 28-year-old Israel Chapa Gonzalez, who was wanted for seriously beating a 25-year-old woman and shooting her with a stun gun.

A warehouse employee told them Gonzalez wasn’t there, so the two officers got permission to walk through the building to learn the layout in case they had to return.

A few paces into the warehouse, they were ambushed by Gonzalez who was hiding in the dark with a gun. Lazzaretto was hit multiple times and is believed to have died almost immediately. Foster and Bella, called to the scene as backups, were wounded by gunfire shortly after when they tried to to rescue Lazzaretto.

After a two-hour standoff, Gonzalez put his gun in his mouth and committed suicide, according to coroners.

“Chuck’s death has made me realize how fragile life is. It can change at any moment,” said Frank, who spoke at the memorial.

Speaking between long pauses to collect himself, Frank said one of Lazzaretto’s last acts was to call his wife and tell her he would be home late. Frank recalled that Lazzaretto told his wife he loved her before hanging up the phone.

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As the pair drove to Chatsworth in search of Gonzalez, he said, Lazzaretto jokingly laid out plans for covering his frontyard with asphalt so he would never have to do yard work--a bit of whimsy typical of the investigator’s high spirits, both on- and off-duty.

“He taught us, no matter how low you feel, the world is still full of good people,” Frank said.

Other colleagues remembered him for his courtesy, his sense of humor and his deep commitment to his family.

“Chuck made it seem so simple but it was really very complex,” said Glendale Officer David Buckley, a past partner of Lazzaretto’s.

Chief Anthony recalled how a crime victim who had been interviewed by Lazzaretto later called to say Lazzaretto had treated her “like a close friend.”

“In time, he would certainly have had my job,” the chief said.

After the eulogies, Anthony knelt to present an American flag to Lazzaretto’s widow, whose two boys, Andrew Charles, 3, and Matthew Robert, 2, joined her midway through the service.

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The youngest boy buried his head in his mother’s lap but his brother watched carefully, then bowed his head for the Lord’s Prayer. As LAPD officers fired a salute, both boys pressed their hands to their ears.

The service ended with police helicopters flying over in a “missing man” formation, and a radio call from Verdugo fire dispatchers alerting all stations to Lazzaretto’s passing.

Lazzaretto is also survived by his father, Andrew Charles Lazzaretto Jr., a former Burbank city manager, and younger brothers Tony, Mark and Dominic Lazzaretto.

Gonzalez was also buried Monday at a church in San Antonio, said his sister, Nancy Martinez. About 100 friends and relatives attended. Martinez offered “our deepest sympathy” for Lazzaretto’s family.

Mischell Bowen, Gonzalez’s live-in girlfriend who said Gonzalez attacked her Tuesday before the Chatsworth shootout, said she sought help Monday from a Glendale counseling service.

She wanted to attend Lazzaretto’s funeral, she said, but stayed away because “I didn’t want to draw attention to myself instead of having it on the officer and his family,” she said.

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Times correspondent Greg Rippee contributed to this story.

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