Memorial brick unveiled for fallen island officer
Sanibel Police Sgt. Anthony Neri and his years of public service to the community were honored last week during a ceremony at the Southwest Florida Public Service Academy in Fort Myers.
On Friday, the academy held a memorial service and unveiled the addition of a 41st brick – bearing Neri’s name, agency of employment and end of watch date – to its Fallen Officers Memorial. Area law enforcement members joined Neri’s family and island officials to pay tribute to his life and service.
Neri, 63, collapsed during a training drill on May 6 with the Sanibel Police Department and passed away from natural causes. He began his career with the city in 2012 as a traffic aide and was promoted to police officer in 2015. Neri was a past recipient of the city’s Perfect Attendance Award, and he was elected by his peers in 2017 to serve as their representative on the Police Pension Board for the city.
Neri had earned the CPR certification as professional rescuer.
In his remarks during the ceremony, Sanibel Police Chief William Dalton explained to those in attendance that his department is a small one – only 25 officers – so it is a close-knit one.
“We grow together like a family,” he said. “This has been a tragic event for our family.”
After the service, Dalton shared that the agency is still suffering from the loss.
“He was a mentor to a lot of the younger officers,” he said.
“Anthony lost his life in service to his community,” Dalton added.
Southwest Florida Public Service Academy Director Todd Everly also spoke at the ceremony.
“This garden was created for the memory of our fallen,” he said.
Everly explained that there are only three places in the country with such memorial gardens – Fort Myers, Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. Neri’s memorial brick was the third one laid this year at the Fort Myers site.
“We hope and pray that it never grows again,” he said of the memorial.
Following the service, Everly reported that every brick-laying ceremony is tough. He noted that the academy maintains a second memorial garden, also on campus, for those lost in the fire service.
“We think it’s very important we don’t forget about those that sacrificed,” Everly said.
Neri’s wife, Debra, and daughter, Allison Schulze, unveiled the memorial brick with Dalton.
After the ceremony, Debra Neri thanked the community for its love and support. Since her husband’s passing, people have been sharing their personal stories about Neri with her and it has been comforting.
“It helps,” she said. “I enjoy that.”
“He loved what he did. He loved the people of Sanibel,” Debra Neri added.
Neri is also survived by his son, Daniel Schulze of New Jersey, along with his mother, sisters and extended family. Both of his children went into public safety, working in 911 communications.
Neri was preceded in death by his father, who was a Newark New Jersey police officer.
Among the Sanibel officials in attendance was City Councilmember Holly Smith.
“I felt it was where I needed to be to show respect for one of our fallen,” she said, adding that the loss has been a difficult one for the island. “This (the ceremony) is a chance to help heal a little more.”
Prior to joining the Sanibel police, Neri had a 30-year career as a revenue officer with the U.S. Department of Treasury. He also had worked three years as a police officer with the Union Township, New Jersey Police Department, and had served as a lieutenant and EMT in the Callmen’s Emergency Unit in Union, New Jersey. Neri held a Bachelor of Arts from Kean University in New Jersey.
He also held a private pilot license.
According to his obituary, Neri was a volunteer at the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife on Sanibel. He was an actor, producer and past president for the Somerset Valley Playhouse in New Jersey and he was a founding member of the New Phoenix Theatre in Fort Myers, where he was involved in set design and construction. Neri also was a lifelong Star Trek fan who collected anything Trekkie.