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Slain Pa. police chief recalled as ‘humble, hard-working hometown son’

Brackenridge Police Chief Justin McIntire was appointed chief Jan. 2, 2019, four years ago to the day he was killed


Photo/ YouTube via CBS News

By Tawnya Panizzi
The Tribune-Review

BRACKENRIDGE, Pa. — Friends of Justin McIntire say that if there’s a heaven, the slain Brackenridge police chief is up there either hunting or playing euchre.

“I knew him since he was a little kid, playing in his grandfather’s yard,” said Butch Magnetta, a family friend. “He loved this community, and he always had a smile. He sure didn’t deserve anything like this.”

McIntire, 46, was gunned down Monday afternoon along Third Avenue after a days-long manhunt for suspect Aaron Lamont Swan Jr., 28, of Duquesne. Swan was later shot and killed by police in Pittsburgh’s Homewood-Brushton neighborhood.

McIntire, many said, was the definition of a hometown son who did good. He grew up along Third Avenue and graduated in 1994 from Highlands School District.

By all accounts, he was humble and hardworking, having served the borough as an officer for 22 years.

Highlands teacher Jennifer Koprivnikar grew up a block from McIntire and was his childhood babysitter.

“He was always such a great big brother,” Koprivnikar said. “He was calm and laid-back, even early on.

“He cared about his community and was always friendly and respectful to others.”

McIntire was appointed police chief Jan. 2, 2019, four years ago to the day he was killed. He headed a department of three full-time officers and one part-timer in the small borough.

“He was gentle and generous with his time,” Brackenridge Mayor Lindsay Fraser said.

“We all know each other, and we’re all devastated. We value being boring and off the map.”

Fraser said McIntire is the first borough officer to be killed in the line of duty.

“It’s hard to describe that I feel so sad and so pissed-off at the same time,” Harrison Chief Mike Klein said.

He worked with McIntire’s father, Lee, a former Brackenridge police officer, in the 1980s. The elder McIntire is retired and serves as a Highlands School District security guard.

“Justin followed right in his footsteps,” Klein said. “He had a slow pulse and was amicable.

“He was a guy’s guy. For him, it was about family and his hunting adventures.”

Friend Ryan Davis was with the McIntire family just weeks ago at a wedding but said where he usually ran into Justin McIntire was at Dunham’s, buying ammunition.

“Lee was talking about what a great chief Justin was,” Davis said. “Everyone who knew him knows he ran this community so well.”

Christa Jones grew up with McIntire and recalled him as a “nice, quiet guy” in high school.

It wasn’t until recently that Jones had the chance to see McIntire’s work ethic firsthand.

“What made me really respect him is when I had a very hard time with one of my children,” Jones said. “I was reluctant to call the police, but he showed up and had the most calming effect.

“The situation could’ve gone wrong, but it was how he reacted that made the difference.”

McIntire was trained in trauma response through the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Handle With Care initiative.

According to friends, he maintained his humility in all aspects of life.

“He’d stop in and talk, and if you didn’t know him, he’d never let on he was chief of police,” Magnetta said.

The owner of Tarentum Hardware along First Avenue, Magnetta hung a memorial sign to McIntire outside his store Tuesday.

Childhood friend Candace Rae grew up in the same Third Avenue neighborhood as McIntire and recalled days spent playing kickball at the borough park.

“Back in the day, everyone knew everyone,” Rae said. “He was a really great guy. Then, from the time he became a patrolman, he was fair and caring.

“He was present in the community but not in the spotlight.”

Tarentum police Officer Matt Kaminski worked with McIntire in Brackenridge before taking his job in Tarentum.

“He was just a great guy. Easygoing and always laughing,” Kaminski said. “He loved his family and was a lot of fun to be around.”

Nick Vardis lived in Brackenridge with his family for several years and said McIntire was a familiar face.

“He’d pull up and talk to the kids,” Vardis said. “You never think this is going to happen in a small community like ours.”

Vardis brought his two young children early Tuesday to the borough building to add flowers to a growing memorial.

Courtney Bonner, a 911 dispatcher, brought multiple bundles of flowers from employees at her north zone office.

Pioneer Hose volunteers Josh and Frank Rose laid an American flag at the scene.

“He was a good cop,” Josh Rose said. “Every day I’d tell him to be safe out there.”

Frank Rose urged people across the Alle-Kiski Valley to erect flags to show support.

“If you don’t have a flag, maybe make a sign,” he said.

Highlands alum and current teacher Bill Celko said McIntire’s loss will be grieved by the entire community.

“Growing up in the area and currently living in Brackenridge, this is an awful blow,” Celko said.

“Justin was absolutely the perfect picture of what you would want as your police chief. He ran the neighborhood watches and was an amazing asset to our community. He made you feel safe.”


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