Friends, family, fellow officers mourn ‘Slug,’ the McKeesport officer killed on duty
Hundreds of law enforcement officials joined friends and family of fallen McKeesport Police Officer Sean Sluganski, 32, as he was laid to rest today. Sluganski was shot and killed while responding to a call for help during a mental health crisis on Feb. 6.
“Sean, in his final heroic act, was trying to be a peacemaker,” said Rev. Stephen Kresak during the funeral at St. Albert the Great Church in Baldwin Borough.
Sluganski’s loved ones said he was known for his laughter. Relating a comment shared by one of the late officer’s friends, Kresak said that if Sluganksi could’ve seen all of the photos of him being shared after his death, he would’ve said, “Man, do I look sexy.” The story drew laughs from those in attendance.
That set the tone for the funeral, where there were as many laughs as there were tears. His older sister, Shela Sluganski, said hugs with him would turn into slap boxing matches, and she recalled him shooting hockey pucks at her in the driveway as kids and turning their mom’s backyard into a pond together.
She recalled a time recently while the two were grilling steaks, when she asked Sluganski why he didn’t try to do something safer — such as being a carpenter or electrical engineer instead of a police officer. “Enough. Are you done?” she remembers him telling her. “I’m not going to do any of that other stuff. And don’t call me an officer to people. I’m a cop.”
Officer Charles Thomas said that Sluganski — known as "Slug" to his fellow officers — would egg him on to play pranks at work. His humor was so infectious, Thomas said, that sometimes people who Sluganski was arresting would come into the station laughing alongside him.
Thomas, who was also shot and injured during the incident that resulted in Sluganski’s death, said what happened that day changed his life forever.
“The Sluganski family embraced me through this whole thing,” he said. “It’s been hard to just look at them because I don’t have the answers they want, and I don’t have the answers that I want right now. It’s heartbreaking, and I’m heartbroken.”
Sluganski’s fiance, Chelsea Cancilla, described Sluganski as someone who would show up at the hospital when people were sick, at their houses when something was broken and at work for extra shifts when there was a need, all without complaining. Their infant daughter, Haven, got to see her father for only a short time, but she said he would be remembered.
“He left a hero, not only to us but to everyone he met,” Cancilla said.
A number of public officials came out for the funeral Mass, including the mayors of Baldwin and McKeesport.
Residents lined the streets outside the church during a procession after the Mass that circled the streets of McKeesport before Sluganski’s body was taken to Jefferson Memorial Cemetery for a private burial.
Elda Bertran came out with her husband and two sisters who live in north Baldwin. Her son is a Pittsburgh Police Officer and was among the hundreds of law enforcement officials at the funeral. When Bertran first heard about the death of Sluganski, she said she immediately thought about her son and was nearly brought to tears.
“And you can just imagine what the family's going through, his law enforcement family and his own family,” she said. “It’s very sad.”
Tina Martinez from north Baldwin came out with her three sons, the youngest of whom she said wants to be a police officer. “So many other cities have thrown their police officers under the bus,” she said. “And we want to show that our city supports safety and supports the blue, and we're here for them.”
Bob Kiska, who is from north Baldwin and the uncle of Mckeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko, said he had met Sluganski and other McKeesport officers at community events. “The other policemen are having a real hard time with this, and it's just been a real drag on the community,” he said.
Kiska said it was especially sobering to be at the funeral of a police officer in Western Pennsylvania less than a month after the funeral of Brackenridge Police Chief Justin Mcintyre. He blames the proliferation of guns and lack of gun control laws and compared the high death rate from guns in the U.S. to that of other industrialized countries.
“The big difference is they all have gun control,” he said. “We do not.”