It wasn’t just the hardest moment of his career as a police officer, Noel said. It was the most difficult task he’s ever faced in his life.
“Hopefully I never have to do this again, as long as I live,” Noel said.
That same roll call room now holds a shrine-like memorial to Thomas, one of many tributes that are springing up around the station to the popular, caring 52-year-old patrolman who signed up just before Hurricane Katrina and remained in the Uptown-based Second District for the eight years since. Officers’ badges are covered with a black band. A large wreath sits next to the front desk. Outside, the large NOPD badge over the doorway is covered with the same black stripe and — most dramatically — a patrol car is draped in black, a framed photo of Thomas surrounded by bouquets and candles.
The pile of bouquets grew on its own throughout the day. Greg Kozlowski, who lives just around the corner from the station, and his 6-year-old daughter Emma brought flowers Tuesday evening as the sun set. They ran into Thomas from time to time and always found him friendly, and when they passed the memorial on Magazine Street they knew they wanted to be a part of it.
“We’re just happy they were doing something in his honor,” Kozlowski said. “It’s the least we could do. I know this has to be tough on everybody.”
Since Thomas’ death, memories of his service have filled the Second District station. The emails that Noel receives express more than just sympathy — they all recount specific calls that Thomas went on, then went back to a day or so later to check back on. “He really genuinely cared,” Noel said. “That’s special.”
Thomas joined the force in his middle age because he was drawn to make a difference, his colleagues said, and he collected every item that signified his work with the force, from re-entry cards issued after Hurricane Katrina nearly eight years ago to credentials related to the Super Bowl this spring. One officer said he was stopped by someone in a gas station expressing condolences over Thomas’s death — Thomas had arrested him once, and the man still remembered how respectfully Thomas had treated him and how sincerely he had spoken to him as he drove him to jail, the officer said.
Thomas leaves behind a wife and two children, and Gulf Coast Bank and Trust has established a donation fund for them. A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church (2515 Franklin Avenue), and the procession afterward will pass the Second District Station on its way to Lake Lawn Cemetery.
As the memorials transition afterward into permanent parts of the Second District station, Thomas’ memory will live long in the building and the community where he served, Noel said: “He definitely will always be a part of the Second District.”