Hundreds mourn fallen FW officer; Kid who played cops and robbers became dedicated policeman

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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FORT WORTH – Hank Nava used to serve on the Fort Worth Police Department’s honor guard, the men and women who stand at perfect attention at the funerals of their fellow officers.

“He always knew death was a possibility,” said his former partner on the force, Mike Montgomery. “We used to talk about it. We’ve been at hundreds of these ceremonies. And now it’s him.”

Hundreds of mourners took their turns walking slowly in front of Officer Nava’s coffin Sunday afternoon.

He died Thursday, two days after being shot in the head while investigating an identity-theft operation in a mobile home in northwest Fort Worth.

Some mourners were close friends and family. Many were fellow officers. But others were just regular North Texans who’d never heard of Hank Nava until it was too late.

“I’m not kidding, he was the finest officer you could imagine,” said Officer G.V. Ramirez, who joined the Fort Worth force in part to model herself on her friend of seven years. “He was so dedicated and loyal. The epitome of a neighborhood officer.”

The man accused of shooting Officer Nava with a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun, Stephen Lance Heard, is being held in the Tarrant County Jail in lieu of $2 million bail. He is expected to be charged with capital murder of a police officer, a charge that can carry the death penalty.

Mr. Montgomery, Officer Nava’s former partner, said he had 15 voice mail messages on his phone within a half-hour of Officer Nava’s shooting. They’d both served on the honor guard. “You had to be asked to be on it,” he said. “You had to show you could carry yourself and show professionalism.”

At the viewing, his coffin was flanked at all times by two members of the honor guard, dressed in shiny-toed black spats, white leather stirrups and police-blue visors pulled low over their eyes.

Officer Nava lay in an open coffin, under a marble panel that quoted the closing words of the Declaration of Independence: “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

He was flanked by two photographs of himself on the job. On the left, he stood proudly in front of his patrol car, his aviator sunglasses topping a broad smile. On the right was Officer Nava in a more formal setting: standing straight at attention, looking stern, his hair trimmed to a military-style buzz cut.

Cathy Madrigal grew up across the street from Officer Nava in Round Rock, and she remembered him playing cops and robbers outside as a kid. He’d come back several times a year, making the rounds around the neighborhood, visiting family and friends. “I still don’t believe this has happened,” she said. “It’s a shock.”

Officer Ramirez has been on the police force for less than a year. But she said her friend’s death would inspire her to be a better officer. “I’m a rookie, so this hits close to home,” she said. “We talked about working together someday. And I won’t get that chance.”

Services, which are open to the public, will be held at Birchman Baptist Church, 9100 N. Normandale St., at 1 p.m. today. Burial will follow at Greenwood Cemetery, 3100 White Settlement Road.

Officer Nava is survived by his wife, Teresa, and two children, Kayleigh, 9, and Justin, 4.