‘Superhero’ cop mourned at crowded funeral

George Hunter
The Detroit News

St. Clair Shores — As he lay in a hospital bed suffering from a gunshot wound, Detroit Police Sgt. Kenneth Steil was unable to walk his 5-year-old son Alexander to his first day of preschool — but fellow cops picked up the slack.

“Arrangements were made to escort his kids to school,” said Monsignor G. Michael Bugarin of St. Joan of Arc during Steil’s funeral Mass on Friday.

“Several police cars showed up, and the officers took (Alexander) by the hand, walked down the street and stood in line,” Bugarin said.

“(Officer Kijuan Anderson, a member of Steil’s 9th Precinct Special Operations unit) looked Alexander in the eye and said, ‘Superheroes go to school. I want you to go into that school and be a superhero like your dad.’

“Ken was a superhero. Some would say superheroes are just fictional characters. The reality is, we have superheroes around us every day, doing everything they can to make this world a safer place.”

Steil, known as “Shark” because he was once a member of the department’s diving team, died Saturday from his injury, days after being shot in the shoulder. He was chasing a man wanted for two shootings and a carjacking when Marquise Cromer allegedly fired his sawed-off shotgun.

Friday’s funeral at the St. Clair Shores church was attended by hundreds of police officers from across Metro Detroit and beyond. Traffic was backed up along Greater Mack for miles, as dozens of police cars and other vehicles lined the street.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig posthumously promoted Steil to the rank of captain.

“This is a difficult day for me,” Craig said. “It’s never easy saying good bye. Sgt. Kenneth Steil was a man of courage; a man of honor; a man of integrity. I keep referring to him as an American hero.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Steil worked hard to keep Detroit safe.

“We’re in a world and a city where the violence is almost indescribable,” Duggan said. “People are shot for looking at someone the wrong way ... or for wearing the wrong clothing.

“I talked to (Steil) in the hospital, and asked him about the work he was doing to take guns off the street. He said, ‘In the neighborhoods I’m in every day, you’ve got seniors who are afraid to sit on their front porch. You’ve got parents afraid to let their kids play in the front yard.’

“When asked if he was making a difference, he said proudly, ‘there have been 74 (fewer people shot in the 9th Precinct this year over the previous year),’ ” Duggan said.

After the funeral, dozens of somber officers mustered outside the church as Steil’s casket was carried to the hearse on its way to Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton Township. The sound of two helicopters hovering above mixed with the wail of bagpipes.

Detroit Police Officer Kaspar Harrison of the Gang Intelligence unit said the scene was all too familiar. Harrison was among five officers injured in May 2010, when Officer Brian Huff was killed by a gunman inside an eastside duplex.

“I was close to (Steil) as well as Brian,” said Harrison, who was shot in the arm during the ambush. “They were both genuinely great people, and great police officers.

“We’re supposed to get through things like this, but it’s not that easy,” Harrison said.

Steil, 46, is survived by his wife, JoAnn; sons William, 5, and Alexander, 3; his parents, Diane and Ken Steil Sr.; and a sister, Karen Tonn.

Donations to Steil’s family may be sent to the Detroit Public Safety Foundation at detroitpublicsafety.org.


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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN