LAWRENCE — American flags fly at half staff on municipal buildings throughout the city today in honor of the late Army Sgt. Alex Jimenez.
It is the first of several tributes that are expected to be made by the city which yesterday ended a 14-month vigil of hope and prayers for the soldier's safe return from the hands of terrorists who kidnapped him in Iraq.
After learning that Jimenez's family had been notified yesterday that the body of their son had been found and identified, Mayor Michael Sullivan and other Lawrence officials began discussing ways to honor Jimenez.
"The Department of Public Works ultimately will take care of all the flagpoles throughout the city," Veterans Services Director Francisco Urena said last night.
"Right after City Hall opens and workers get to work, the flags will be lowered. The governor will do a release so the flags go down statewide. But we will start the initiative. The flags will remain at half staff until further word is given by the governor," he said.
Urena planned to meet today with Sullivan to decide what steps the city can take to pay homage to its hero and assist the family. Those discussions include preliminary arrangements for a possible funeral with full military honors here in Lawrence and burial in one of the cemeteries.
There is also talk of a possible monument or memorial, similar to tributes which have been bestowed upon other Lawrencians who have died while serving their country dating back to the Civil War.
"There is talk of a possible burial in the city and a possible wake in the city. It's really up to both parents to decide that," said Urena, noting that Jimenez's father Andy planned to head to Queens, N.Y., today to be with the dead soldier's mother, Maria Duran. They will decide the final resting place for their son, who could be buried in the veterans' lot at the Bellevue Cemetery or in St. Mary's Cemetery, which might be more preferable because of the family's Catholic faith.
"Both lots are available," Urena said.
"But, regardless of location, a full military burial is planned, being coordinated through the Pentagon, the Department of the Army. The body is going to be released in New York to the mother in several days. Whatever the family wants to do is going to happen — whether it's here or in New York," he said
Meanwhile, the city is in official mourning. And public condolences began to flow last night from public officials in the city, at the Statehouse and in Washington.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas both called Andy Jimenez to express their condolences. State Rep. William Lantigua and City Councilor Grisel Silva were among those who went to console the grieving father at his Lawrence home.
Reached last night, Sullivan said he had already declared today as the beginning of the city's mourning period.
"I know this is going to hurt all of us tomorrow when the news is out because we had been waiting for the day when he would return home," said the mayor.
"I had so much hope that he was going to come home. Tomorrow will be a sad day for Lawrence and people throughout the country. He's with God in heaven now. Alex will always go down as a hero. He died for our country and for us to remain free."
"(Today), I'll put the plan in place, whatever that is, what the city needs to do to honor Alex. ... On behalf of the city, we're saddened for the Jimenez family. We prayed and wished he was going to come home one day and that never happened. The city stands ready to assist the family in any way to remove their pain."
Even if the funeral and burial are held in New York, the mayor said he expected there would be a special memorial service and other events planned, based on the family's wishes.
If Jimenez is buried here, the mayor said the city would draw on the experience of having hosted the funeral for another fallen soldier in September 2005.
Army Sgt. Pierre A. Raymond, 28, was the victim of an insurgency attack on his sleeping quarters near the Iraqi city of Ramadi. Following a funeral Mass at St. Patrick Church, his body made a final pass through the neighborhood where he grew up before receiving a full military burial at Immaculate Conception Cemetery.
Urena said he believed Jimenez is the first Massachusetts serviceman in the category of missing in action or prisoner of war since the Vietnam War.