SOMERVILLE, NJ – More than 1,000 police officers from throughout New Jersey came to pay their respects and say farewell to one of their own yesterday at Immaculate Conception Church where a funeral mass was held for Summit police officer Matthew Tarentino, a lifelong Somerville resident who was killed in a car accident on Route 78 in Bernards Township May 30.
Tarentino, 29, is survived by his widow, Vickie, and two sons, Robbie, 4, and Ray, 2. The boys were dressed in matching gray suits with vests, blue shirts and bow ties. The couple is expecting their third child in August.
The entire Summit Police force, led by Chief Robert Weck, served as the lead honor guard, escorting the hearse and Tarentino’s flag-draped casket in and out of the church. The honor guard also included a mounted police unit from the Newark Police Department and a pipe and drum unit composed of police from several NJ departments.
As Tarentino’s casket was being placed in the hearse following the funeral mass, a State Police helicopter flew down the entire length of Mountain Avenue; Tarentino’s two young sons and his widow gazed upwards as the helicopter went by.
Close to 100 police motorcycles led the funeral procession onto High Street, driving beneath a huge American flag draped over the roadway, hung between ladder trucks from the Somerville and Summit Fire Departments. Their members stood at attention alongside their trucks as hundreds of police and first responder vehicles followed the hearse.
Along the way, people stood on the curb, their front yards and porches, some saluting, some holding American flags. Many stood in silence, some with their hands over their hearts, others dabbing at tears.
Students at Somerville Middle School stood outside in silence and watched the procession pass by.
The procession turned onto Grove Street, with several employees standing outside the Somerset County Administration Building paying their respects. The long line of vehicles headed for Route 22, and passed the Tarentino’s residence, where neighbors stood holding American flags in his honor. A Somerville police officer stood as a sentry on the front walk of their home.
The procession continued on to Route 287 and arrived at Resurrection Cemetery for graveside services.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed an executive order last week that directed all State buildings to fly flags at half-staff on Monday to honor Tarentino.
Msgr. Seamus Brennan, rector of Immaculate Conception Church presided at the funeral mass, and recalled having met Tarentino when he first came to the parish 15 years ago,
Tarentino was an altar boy; it didn’t take long for the monsignor to realize that Tarentino was serious about his religion, a pious young man described by the monsignor as “the best.”
He tended to the priests’ vestments, polished the chalices and made certain everything was in order for Sunday mass each week. That devotion continued into his adult life as Tarentino dedicated his time and energy to the parish and its two schools, Immaculate Conception and Immaculata High School, both of which he attended.
The monsignor said he and other priests in the parish were convinced Tarentino would become a priest.
“He approached everything with passion,” the monsignor said. "He's one of the most faith-filled young men I've ever known. All of us thought Matt was bound to be a priest.
“In fact, we thought he was going to be a bishop,” he said.
But instead, he married Vickie and became a cop.
By all accounts, a very good cop, well-liked, well-respected and well meaning, admired by his fellow officers and a big hit with the kids he worked with.
Tarentino was the Summit Police Department’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer, and was a familiar fixture in Summit’s schools, where he conducted DARE programs.
He was driving his personal vehicle on the way to work on Route 78 when a driver heading westbound crossed the median and slammed into Tarentino’s car at 6:20 a.m. the day after Memorial Day. The other driver died that afternoon from his injuries. A third driver received minor injuries.
Tarentino was scheduled to speak to a fifth-grade class about the dangers of drug abuse that morning.
"He was the rock and leader of our family," his widow said. "Robbie and Ray, he poured himself into those two boys," she added, her voice beginning to quiver. "I will miss you so much; I love you Matt, forever and always."
There were lighter moments during the funeral mass.
“My guess is that Heaven has not been the same since Tuesday,” Msgr. Brennan said. “I think he’s going to shake them up.”
Vickie spoke lovingly of her husband and the boys’ father, noting that her husband’s boss, Chief Weck, made reference to her husband as “the face of the community policing unit.”
“You made a great choice,” she said. “He is so handsome.”
Weck’s statement released last week read:
“Matthew Tarentino epitomized what a law enforcement officer should be: a respected, trusted colleague with unshakeable dedication and enthusiasm for his calling.
“He was the face of the department’s community policing unit and understood the importance of building relationships within Summit. During his short time with us, Matt created a lasting imprint on our department and the city. While Officer Matthew Tarentino may be gone, he will never be forgotten.”
The Summit Police Department has promoted Tarentino to the rank of Detective posthumously.
On Sunday night, thousands of mourners had lined up outside Immaculate Conception Church to pay their respects to Tarentino. The viewing was scheduled to last four hours, from 4-8 p.m. It began one half hour earlier, with the last visitor leaving the church at 9:40 p.m. Msgr. Brennan estimated more than 3,000 paid their respects - neighbors, friends, family, those he worked with and complete strangers, touched by the tragic circumstances.
The line outside the church stretched down Mountain Avenue past the rectory and Somerset Savings Bank to the corner of West End Avenue.
Immaculate Conception School and Immaculata High School were closed on Monday to allow teachers and staff to attend the Mass.
The couple was well known in the parish. Both come from long-established Somerville families.
Tarentino’s widow is Marketing Director at the high school; his mother-in-law is the music teacher at Immaculate Conception.
Tarentino was also president of the Immaculate Conception School Advisory Council, working with Msgr. Brennan and Sister Mary Chapman, school principal on curriculum, technology in the classroom, planning programs and activities.
Tarentino’s involvement with Immaculate Conception School goes back to his years as a student there in the late 1990s. After graduating eighth grade, he attended Immaculata High School, graduating in 2006; his wife graduated in 2005. Tarentino was a member of the marching band and concert band and played varsity tennis while a student at IHS. In later years, he also served as the school’s tennis coach.
He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications with a minor in Spanish from Rutgers University.
Tarentino joined the Summit Police department in 2012, having previously served as an officer in the Rutgers Police Department and the South Bound Brook Police Department.
Along with the Summit Police Department, Tarentino was recently honored by the New Jersey Attorney General as the 2017 recipient of the Attorney General’s Outstanding Community Policing Award.
The Summit Police Athletic League (PAL) has established an online donation site to for the family.
The page is located on the 'compassionate crowdfunding' portal youcaring.com, and has set a goal of $500,000. The link is:
As of 7:30 p.m. Monday, the fund had raised $470,291.