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Thousands Line Route of Funeral Procession

Slain officer will ‘forever be my hero,’ says McKeesport police colleague

By Staff Reports
The Tube City Almanac
February 15, 2023
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Supporters lined Richland Avenue in Dravosburg to view the funeral procession. (Vickie Babyak photo special to Tube City Almanac)

(Written and reported by Vickie Babyak and Jason Togyer)

Thousands of McKeesport-area residents lined the route of a funeral procession for a city police officer killed in the line of duty.

Many held signs saying “We Support Our Police” or American flags as the hearse carrying Officer Sean Sluganski, 32, passed through Dravosburg and McKeesport on its way to Jefferson Memorial Park in Jefferson Hills.

Sluganski was interred just after 5 p.m. in a private ceremony at Jefferson Memorial Park. An Allegheny County emergency dispatcher broke into police radio traffic and called Sluganski’s call sign, 11-16, three times.

McKeesport police Chief Adam Alfer then responded and declared that Sluganski, McKeesport police Badge 300, “is now off-duty.”

“You have completed your mission here, and may you rest in peace, knowing that your strength and love lives on through your mother, your fiancee, your daughter, your sisters, your family and friends,” the dispatcher replied, “and your honor lives on through us all. Thank you for a job well-done, officer. You will truly be missed.”

City of Pittsburgh motorcycle officers escort a hearse carrying McKeesport police Officer Sean Sluganski, 32, through Dravosburg. A city man has been charged with the murder of Sluganski and with wounding Officer Charles Thomas Jr., 35. (Vickie Babyak photo special to Tube City Almanac) 

Sluganski is the first McKeesport police officer to die in the line of duty in nearly 30 years. On Nov. 10, 1993, McKeesport police Officer Frank Miller Jr. was killed while attempting to arrest a homeless man in an alley off of Walnut Street, Downtown. Andre Harper, 68, is serving a life sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, Centre County, after being convicted of first-degree murder in Miller’s death.

The mood was somber and bystanders fell silent as the procession wound its way solemnly through the city’s Downtown, Christy Park, Renziehausen Park and East End neighborhoods and under a large American flag erected by the White Oak No. 1 and Glassport volunteer fire departments near the McKeesport Public Safety Building on Lysle Boulevard.

According to one count, up to 1,200 police, fire and emergency medical services vehicles were included in the procession, which included police departments from West Virginia and throughout Pennsylvania.

Near the end, the beginning of the procession was crossing over the Jerome Avenue Bridge as the end of the procession was still making its way into Downtown.

In Dravosburg, which is patrolled by McKeesport police, Chele Smith, president of the ladies’ auxiliary to American Legion Post 380, passed out American flags to supporters as they came to mourn and show their respect for Sluganski’s family, friends and fellow police during the funeral procession.

Dravosburg Mayor Kevin McKelvey posted a request on the Dravosburg community Facebook page, asking residents in the surrounding area to line up on Richland Avenue beginning at 1 p.m.

Supporters lined Richland Avenue near Finney Funeral Home in Dravosburg to view the funeral procession. (Vickie Babyak photo special to Tube City Almanac)

City residents also gathered in the parking lot of the former McKeesport Daily News building, in front of the public safety building, along Walnut Street and in Renzie.

Sluganski died after being shot while responding to a domestic dispute call Feb. 6 on Wilson Street in the Grandview section of the city.

Johnathan Jermia Morris, 31, of McKeesport is being held in the Allegheny County Jail without bond on charges of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, assault on a law-enforcement officer and attempted murder of a law-enforcement officer in the first degree in connection with the shooting of Sluganski and fellow McKeesport police Officer Chuck Thomas Jr., and the attempted shooting of a third McKeesport police officer whose name has not been publicly released.

During an invitation-only funeral Mass at St. Albert the Great Church in Baldwin Borough, family members, friends and co-workers, including Thomas, remembered Sluganski, who had been a McKeesport police officer for two years, following service in Whitaker and Charleroi.

Pittsburgh TV station WPXI (11) provided pooled media coverage for reporters and the public waiting outside.

“He brought the brightest light to every dark corner of my life, and gave me everything I ever could have wanted, and our family and our daughter,” said Sluganski’s fiancee, Chelsea Cancilla, who was raising 1-year-old Haven with her Sluganski. “He’s the only person who ever made me feel safe, even when the world was crumbling around me.”

Thomas remembered working the “warden’s desk” at the McKeesport station when Sluganski brought in a suspect and both were laughing, having shared a joke on the way to the lockup.

“I’d be like, ‘What are you laughing about? You just got arrested,’” said Thomas, bandages still visible on his face from wounds sustained Feb. 6. “He changed everybody’s life. I couldn’t have had a better partner. He will forever be my hero.”

The procession departed St. Albert at around 3 p.m., passing the Allegheny County Airport about a half-hour later and arriving Downtown just after 4 p.m.

Residents of all ages lined both sides of streets. Several local school districts, including McKeesport Area, South Allegheny and Clairton City schools went to remote instruction on Tuesday to avoid traffic delays and to allow students and teachers to pay their respects.

Institutions such as McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center and Carnegie Library of McKeesport also closed for the afternoon.

Police officers from Monroeville, Penn Hills, Glassport and other municipalities were answering calls for service in the city on Tuesday.

Unionized firefighters from the City of Pittsburgh and North Strabane and South Strabane townships in Washington County, along with the Allegheny County Fire Academy, staffed McKeesport’s two fire stations during the funeral service and procession, while Collier Twp. Emergency Medical Service responded to ambulance calls.

North Huntingdon EMS & Rescue also provided backup to McKeesport Ambulance Rescue Service.

McKeesport police issued a statement thanking residents, businesses and other police agencies that have reached out and helped the department over the past week.

“The outpouring of love and support we have received does not go unnoticed,” the department said. “This city truly came together in a time of tragedy and reminded us why we love to serve and protect the City of McKeesport.”

The McKeesport Fire Department is selling memorial T-shirts to raise money for the Sluganski family. Orders must be received by Feb. 18. In addition, a memorial fund has been established by Teamsters Local Union 205. Donations may be made payable to Officer Sean Sluganski Memorial Fund, c/o Parkview Community Federal Credit Union, 2100 Eden Park Blvd., McKeesport, PA 15132.

(Vickie Babyak photo special to Tube City Almanac)

Originally published February 15, 2023.

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