Thousands of people are expected to attend today's funeral for Los Angeles police officer Randy Simmons. Simmons was shot as he and other SWAT officers tried to rescue victims of a man who had barricaded himself inside a house in Winnetka last week. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports on a 51-year-old man whom many saw as a hero.
Frank Stoltze: LAPD Lieutenant Michael Albanese says the first thing you noticed about Randy Simmons was his size. The former college football cornerback was over six feet tall, 200-plus pounds, and all muscle.
Michael Albanese: The physicality of the man was pretty imposing. He was just a man of steel.
Stoltze: Albanese, who commands the LAPD's elite SWAT unit, says Simmons was a reliable leader and organizer, a "rock" others looked to for support and guidance. The two-decade SWAT veteran also had a knack for talking with barricaded suspects.
Albanese: Especially if there was suicidal ideations, Randy immediately connected with them, and it was heartfelt. And he was able to verbally walk them from crisis out to us. So there's a lot of folks over this 20 year period that are still living because of him.
Stoltze: Officer Guy Dobine partnered with Simmons, who prided himself on spotting felony suspects on the streets. Dobine recalls one stop that didn't result in an arrest.
Dobine: I'm ready to get back in the car and go, and Randy's kinda hanging around talking to the guy. Randy's talking to the guy about the Lord, and where's he going with his life, what's his next step. And this guy is a gang member! And then Randy puts his hand on, I think on the guy's shoulder, and the guy bows his head and Randy bows his head, and Randy prays for him.
Stoltze: SWAT Lieutenant Albanese remembers that Simmons would phone at the last minute sometimes, asking for time off.
Albanese: He would go, "I got 30 kids that have been promised to go to the zoo, bike ride, skate park, whatever. Some people backed out. These kids are dependent on someone to make it happen, you know. Can I have the day off?" And I would just laugh. I said, "How can I say no to you? You always do this to me!"
Stoltze: Some of those kids live in the Hacienda Heights housing project in Watts.
Kids: He always played football, he gave us money if we want, he'd read us books. Randy is a nice, kind guy. Told us to don't grow up and be a gangbanger. He always in our heart, he always gonna be in our heart.
Stoltze: For 11 years, Simmons visited South L.A. housing projects as a minister with Glory Christian Fellowship International Church in Carson. He drove a converted van called "Glory Kids," delivering toys, and shoes, and hope.
Ranesha Sims: I'm 21 and I'm Ranesha Sims. He did a lot for me. He helped me get my life together. He taught us the Bible. Never, never, never was he on the negative. He was always on the positive. He always, you know, tell us I can, I can, I can, not I can't, and always if you need something, don't be afraid to ask.
Stoltze: Sims says she first met Simmons ten years ago at the projects.
Sims: When I needed somebody to talk to, when I was hurting, when I was down, I could talk to him. And he listened. And it really made me feel good to have a positive role model– a male role model in my life when I didn't have one.
Melissa Franklin: One thing that he had said over and over is, "We have to help the babies, we have to help the babies." It was just an urgency with him.
Stoltze: Melissa Franklin works at Simmons' church.
Franklin: He would mention just what he saw in the streets working as a SWAT officer. He would just see children hurting. Right now, I'm picturing him up there leading prayer, and he would be just bent over crying with passion.
Stoltze: LAPD Officer Dobine says that on the job, Simmons epitomized the level-headed SWAT man.
Dobine: He just seemed so calm, and so assured that everything was gonna be OK that I would think that nothing would ever happen to Randy, that he was protected. And also he was a man of the Lord, and he was so devoted, I thought nothing was ever going to happen to him, ever. If I'm with Randy, I'm protected too.
Stoltze: SWAT Lieutenant Albanese says Simmons harbored no illusions that he was bulletproof.
Albanese: Randy would talk very matter-of-factly about the high risk nature of the job. He said it could happen to any of us tonight. I don't know haw many times he said that, emphatic about it.
Stoltze: Albanese describes Simmons as one of the most amazing officers, and human beings, he had ever met.
Albanese: I'm telling you, he is the real deal. There are some folks that may believe that they are embellishing this because of how he died, but he was the real deal.
Stoltze: LAPD Officer Randy Simmons leaves behind his wife and two children of his own.