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Hundreds mourn slain prison officer

Hundreds of law enforcement officials paid their respects to U.S. Penitentiary Atwater Correctional Officer Jose Rivera during a service on Friday at St. Patrick's Parish in Merced.

Rivera, 22, of Chowchilla, was killed on June 20 after being attacked by two inmates and stabbed with a homemade shank.

He had worked at USP Atwater less than a year.

But that didn't keep correctional, police and highway patrol officers from attending the traditional Catholic service Friday afternoon.

Officers from San Bernardino, Clovis and even Rhode Island were on hand to honor Rivera. Correctional officers from other prisons, as well as Bureau of Land Management, Merced County Sheriff's Department, Merced Police Department and California Highway Patrol officials were also present.

These hundreds of service men and women -- as well as friends and family -- surrounded the fountain outside the Yosemite Avenue church as Rivera's casket was carried into and his family entered the service.

"Words do not come easy when the subject is the death of a young man," said U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, addressing the standing-room only crowd inside the church. "It's useless to pretend his death is not bitter to us."

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Rivera -- the third of five children -- graduated from Le Grand High School in 2003 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy shortly after. He served four years in the military, including two tours in Iraq.

Mukasey, who told the crowd he had never met Rivera, said he felt he had learned enough about Rivera to know he was a man whose life was dedicated to service. "He served willingly and bravely."

The flags at the Department of Justice office in Washington, D.C., flew at half-staff Friday in honor of that service, Mukasey added. Rivera's name will also be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in that same city next year, he said, along with the names of 23 other officers who died in the line of duty this year.

This memorial, Mukasey added, proves that law enforcement isn't just about badges and uniforms. "It's about extraordinary people willing to stand strong," he said. "For standing strong (Rivera) paid the highest and most precious price."

Harley Lappin, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, also spoke during the service, addressing Rivera's mother, Terry Rivera.

"Your loss is our loss," he said. "I know he was a hero to you. He was to us as well."

Representing the Correctional Peace Officers Foundation, Kim Blakley read a poem by author Ellen Brenneman titled "His Journey's Just Begun."

"Nothing loved is ever lost," read the choked-up Brenneman, the catastrophic assistance coordinator. "And he was loved so much."

Most of the about 600 at the funeral followed the family to the Merced District Cemetery for the burial. There, Terry Rivera was unable to hold back her grief, weeping as flags were presented to her and taps was played.

In an interview Monday, Terry Rivera said she remembered her son as a loving child who grew into an adult eager to help other people.

"He was a good boy," she said, crying. "He just wanted a positive life and a good future."

Reporter Abby Souza can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or asouza2mercedsun-star.com.

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