Copperas Cove firefighter remembered with stories, bagpipes, bells and procession
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Dozens of firefighters from all over Central Texas filled pew after pew, joining family and friends to pay their respects to Jose Alberto Negrete during the funeral mass service held at the Holy Family Catholic Church Tuesday morning.
Negrete, who was called Joe Joe by his loved ones, passed away on July 28, at 30 years of age after a battle with lymphoma, which was classified as a line of duty illness. Negrete had served with the Copperas Cove Fire Department for nearly five years.
Negrete leaves behind a widow, Maggie, whom he had been married to for seven years. He is also survived by his parents, Felipe and Maria Negrete and his older brother and sister Gabriel Negrete and Natalie Murray and his niece and nephew, Gabriella and Joseph Murray. He also leaves behind two dogs that he loved dearly named Dragon and Kylo.
Jose had lived in Copperas Cove from the age of three after his family moved here due to the military. He played soccer on a team coached by his father, and also got his love of Spiderman from his father, according to Maria.
“There’s actually no words that can define who he was,” Maria said. “He was compassionate, caring, loving. He didn’t judge. He liked to serve his community, and he was a humble kind of person. He hated the spotlight and he would always prefer to recognize someone else other than himself.”
Jose is described as a good husband and provider, a great brother and a wonderful son.
“He always put everybody first, professionally and even family wise,” Maria said. “He was our peacekeeper.”
Even after being diagnosed with lymphoma, Jose kept his fighting spirit and did not quit, Maria said. He was informed that he was going to die but still asked for other options, she added.
“He was facing mortality at the age of 30 years old,” Maria said. “He was alone when he was told that he was going to die. His wife went to see him that day, and he kept telling her how sorry he was. He told her numerous times how sorry he was for the pain, even though he was the one that was in pain and he was the one that was fighting for his life. He’s always been a true warrior for us.”
Due to COVID-19 precautions, Maria was not able to be at his bedside until later, after he was no longer responsive, but was able to speak to him on FaceTime. Jose told his mother that he would see her in heaven.
His drive for helping others came from his family’s values. For the Negrete family, blood does not equal family.
“Once you become a friend to the Negrete family you become family, and we will do anything that we can to help someone out,” Maria said. “When Joe Joe decided to be a firefighter/paramedic, he wanted to make a difference, not just to have a job but to help his community. He loved his work and he worked until he was told to go take care of himself before knowing he had cancer.”
Jose worked at Station 2 as a firefighter and then later as a paramedic. He loved cooking for his fellow firefighters.
Fire Marshal Carlos Mariduena worked closely with Jose at Station #2 and described him as having a cool, calm demeanor.
“No matter how hectic the situation got, he didn’t change his character. His character always remained the same, no matter how the call evolved, no matter what kind of emergency we had,” Mariduena said. “He was just very steadfast and very tempered throughout the entire encounter of the call.”
Jose was also a great friend.
“He was almost kind of like the glue that held us all together with his cooking and just how his demeanor was,” Mariduena said.
Mariduena added that Jose did not have a mean bone in his body.
“I know people say that, but he was just a marvel to be around,” he said. “I’m retired military and out of hundreds and hundreds of people I’ve worked with, he is one of the ones that stands out because he was so calm.”
Deputy Fire Chief Gary Young called Jose “dedicated.”
“He had extreme commitment for the citizens in this community and it was all about ‘What can I do for this community?’ and it was never about ‘What’s in it for me?’” Young said. “He always represented everybody very well, and it really didn’t matter what the situation was, or the person was, you could definitely count on him to be there and to try do everything he could to try to make a difference in their lives.”
Inside the church, Father Patrick Ebner led the service.
The service began with a reading of the Book of Wisdom 4:7-13, which says “A just man, though he died early, shall be at rest, for the age it is honorable comes not with passing of time nor could it be measured in terms of years; Rather, understanding is the hoary crown for men, and an unsullied life, the attainment of old age. He who pleased God was loved; he who lived among sinners was transported–snatched away, lest wickedness pervert his mind or deceit beguile his soul; For the witchery of paltry things obscures what is right and the whirl of desire transforms the innocent mind. Having become perfect in a short while, he reached the fullness of a long career; for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he sped him out of the midst of wickedness. But the people saw and did not understand, nor did they take this into account.”
Ebner described Negrete as a “hometown son of Copperas Cove who was all heart.”
“I would encourage you to remember the good things about our brother Joe, whether it was his love for video games even as he played them with his firefighter buddies, or his love for Marvel’s Spiderman and his desire to serve the citizens of Copperas Cove,” Ebner said. “You know his great life. Share it with one another, especially during this time of grief, and as you remember a few good things about our brother Joe’s life, you must also remember the tragic reality that he died at the age of 30, from lymphoma, a line of duty illness arising from the dangers of protecting the common good of our city of Copperas Cove as a firefighter.”
Ebner referred back to the first reading and its similarities to Negrete’s life and death.
“Even if we find consolations from our Scriptures today, I imagine many people here, at times myself included, want to cry out to God a question of why,” Ebner said.
He added that it is okay for people to cry out a question of why, because Jesus Christ did the same as he hung on the cross when he called out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Ebner encouraged people to also ask the question of what, specifically “what must we do in response to hardships, to tragedies, to sufferings.”
“In the midst of all of this, I would encourage you take to heart and be men and women of prayer,” Ebner added. “Let us trust that our Lord Jesus does indeed love our brother Joe so much, in fact in his great love for Joe and for each of us, our Lord Jesus humbled himself.”
At the end of the service, Ebner blessed two crucifixes for Jose’s wife and for his parents.
Outside in front of the church, Jose was honored with a bell ceremony, as is tradition among firefighters.
After members of the honor guard removed the flag draping Jose’s casket and folded it, Fire Chief Michael Neujahr presented the flag to Jose’s widow.
Deputy Fire Chief Gary Young read a message on behalf of Neujahr before sharing the history behind the Bell Ceremony.
“In the past, as firefighters began their tour of duty, it was the bell that signaled the beginning of that day’s shift. Throughout the day and night, each alarm was sounded by a bell which summoned the brave souls to fight the fires and place their lives in jeopardy for the good of their fellow citizens,” Young said. “When the fire was out and the alarm had come to an end, it was the bell that signaled to all the completion of that call. When a firefighter had died in the line of duty, paying the supreme sacrifice, it was the warmful toll of the bell that solemnly announced a firefighter’s passing. This tradition is a symbol which reflects honor and respect to those who have given so much and have served so well. To symbolize the devotion that these brave souls had for their duties, a special signal of three rings three times each represents the end of our comrade’s duties and that they will be returning to quarters.”
All Copperas Cove Fire Department personnel turned on their radios while all other active duty and retired fire personnel stood at attention as the last alarm for Negrete was broadcast. Following this alarm, the bell was rung nine times total before bagpipes played “Amazing Grace”.
Fire trucks, emergency vehicles and law enforcement vehicles from Copperas Cove, Coryell County, Belton, Gatesville, Killeen, Temple, Morgan’s Point Resort, Liberty Hill, Marble Falls, Kempner, Waco, Travis County and beyond escorted Negrete’s body and his family along Business 190 through the city of Copperas Cove, then along I-14 all the way to Temple, where he was to be cremated.
As Jose’s body was taken to be cremated, his father wrote a poem and sent it to Jose’s phone number.
The poem reads: “I will always have you in my heart. I won’t ever forget you. When the rain falls upon me, it’s your tears that soak me. When the sun shines on me, it’s the warmth of your embraces. When the light of the moon and the stars shine upon me, it’s your love and wisdom that lets me make it through another day. Thank you and forgive me if I have ever failed to be there for you.”
“He’s going to be missed, but I want to honor my son, and we have plans for the future with him, but I just want people to know he was a common, kindhearted young man that had so many dreams, and not just because I’m his mom do I say this, but anybody that got to meet him got to find out who he is, and I am so proud to be his mama,” Maria said.
A GoFundMe was started when Negrete began his battle with Lymphoma with a goal of $20,000. As of press time, the Go Fund Me has raised $13,960. The link can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/fight-for-a-hero.
A meal train has also been started to help the family as they grieve. To sign up for the meal train, people can visit www.mealtrain.com/trains/e8d45e.
Those not comfortable using the website may contact family friend Yvonne Imergoot by texting 254-394-1408 to coordinate a way to help with meals.
Maria said she was grateful for the meal train started by her dear friend, Yvonne Imergoot.
“She started this meal train for us, and you know, we didn’t want anything. We weren’t even thinking about this meal train, but it’s kind of bittersweet,” Maria said. “It’s like my Joe Joe took part with this meal train because even though he’s gone, we have the community to thank with this meal train, and we do appreciate everything it has done for us, so it’s a blessing. We do appreciate all that was done for my son and our family.”