EVERETT — There was no body to bury at the memorial service here Tuesday for fallen Tulalip officer Charlie Cortez.
He’s still in Puget Sound, somewhere beyond Jetty Island. Presumed drowned nine months ago at the age of 29, he was the first officer to die in the line of duty in the Tulalip Police Department’s history.
Instead of a casket, pallbearers carried a cedar box decorated with a Thin Blue Line flag, an elk, a police badge and Cortez’s motocross racing number — all elements of his life.
Inside the box, Tulalip tribal board member Glen Gobin said, are mementos that serve as reminders of Cortez. Gobin said the family can keep the box and open it whenever they want to remember him.
Cortez was born in Everett and raised on the Tulalip Reservation, where he lived until his death. He was a hunter, a geoduck diver and an accomplished motocross racer. As a Tulalip Fish and Wildlife officer, he had the utmost respect for treaty rights, said police Chief Chris Sutter.
More than anything else, Cortez loved his family, including his son and daughter, 8-year-old Dominic and 5-year-old Peyton. His mother, Paula Grenier-Cortez, said he could always be counted on to attend any family event, no matter what. He never made excuses.
“That’s one thing you’ll notice in his celebration of life is that he was always there,” she said in a recorded interview shared by the Tulalip Tribes.
On Nov. 17, 2020, Cortez was in a boat investigating a suspected poaching incident. On his way back from the call, the weather changed dramatically. Large waves, caused by gale-force winds, slammed into the side of his 24-foot fisheries boat, capsizing it and throwing him and his partner, Shawn Edge, overboard.
Edge, wearing a life jacket, was picked up by fishermen near Hat Island.
Cortez was never found — despite an extensive search that included the U.S. Coast Guard, several police agencies, fishermen, helicopters, underwater drones, sonar and specially trained search dogs.
Tulalip officers and tribal fishermen still search for Cortez when they’re out on the water. To this day, not even a scrap of clothing has been recovered.
By Tuesday, family and friends had waited long enough. It was time to give Cortez a proper memorial. It was time to celebrate his life.
A procession arrived in Everett by way of Tulalip. A stream of police cars and motorcycles, with all their flashing emergency lights, wound along the Everett waterfront and down Hewitt Avenue, toward Angel of the Winds Arena, where the memorial would be held.
Off of the 10th Street boat launch, a fleet of vessels was stationed to pay tribute to Cortez. On Hewitt Avenue, two ladder trucks from the Everett Fire Department hoisted a towering American flag.
Members of law enforcement from around the state took part, including officers with Seattle’s mounted patrol and pipes-and-drums units.
The memorial was a mix of traditions: those that members of law enforcement hold for a fallen officer, and those of the Tulalip Tribes to remember a lost loved one.
Inside the arena, tribal drummers and singers walked with the family as they carried the cedar box. They were followed by Bags & Pipes officers and an honor guard. Cerissa Kitchens, of the Tulalip Tribes, sang the national anthem.
Father Pat Twohy, a Jesuit priest and an honorary Tulalip tribal member, gave an opening prayer and blessed the cedar box with a branch and water.
Throughout the ceremony, flags were presented to the family, as was a customary blanket.
Margie Santibane read the eulogy on behalf of Cortez’s family, describing his life, his passions and his love for his family.
At the end, she went off-script.
“And I would just like to say, yes, Charlie Joe Cortez is as good as everyone says he is,” she said.
In the pre-recorded interview, Grenier-Cortez said the memorial does not mark an end to the search for her son.
People are asked to keep an eye out and report any clothing that might have belonged to Cortez. He was wearing a department-issued uniform, including a black stocking cap, a black zip-up bulletproof vest, a dark-blue shirt, a dark-blue coat, dark-blue pants, black boots and a black UnderArmour T-shirt. His name and a gold star are embroidered in some of the clothing.
“It’s important for us to bring something home from those waters,” Grenier-Cortez said.
At the end of the memorial, the honor guard went outside and performed a three-volley salute. Three rounds of rifle fire reverberated throughout the arena.
A woman’s voice could be heard over the intercom, mimicking what you might hear on a police radio.
“Ocean 2, out of service,” the voice said, referring to Cortez’s call sign. “Gone, but not forgotten.”
Report anything that may aid the search for Charlie Cortez to the Tulalip Police Department at 360-716-4608, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.