GREENWOOD VILLAGE, COLO. - Robert Mercer was a fixture in Greenwood Village.
People living near Arapahoe Road and I-25 knew his name, and in February, after he collapsed in a Lowe’s parking lot, they mourned his death.
Robert Mercer was homeless. He suffered a brain injury as a child. He worked at a local Safeway as an adult, but he was unable to maintain his routine after his mother's death. He wandered the streets for more than 20 years.
"He was a very large man with a beard. He wore headphones. You could tell that he was homeless, and he was a gentle giant of a man,” says George Voigt, an officer with Greenwood Village’s traffic unit.
Without other family to speak of, the Greenwood Police Department took care of Mercer. Officers brought him food, and tents, and clothes, and even took him to doctor appointments as needed.
“We took care of him. We kind of adopted him,” Voigt says. “He was somebody we looked out for and we kind of felt like we were his family.”
Many people around town felt the same way. They’d look for him at Starbucks, Target, Safeway, or on the corner. Other people would pay for motel stays, or ensure he was fed for the night.
“We feed him. We feed him all the time," says India Castle owner Jagdish Singh Banwaid. "Sometimes he come to the front door. I’d say come in. Tell the chef. He’d make a plate. Give him Coke. Chai. He liked the chai. Indian tea … We’d make a cup of chai. Give to him. He was very happy.”
But it was the officers who particularly tended to Mercer.
Officer Alden Langert wrote Mercer’s two-page eulogy. Listening to Langert speak, you can tell he knows every detail of Mercer’s life, down to what he listened to on those headphones. It was KBPI Radio.
“That’s part of our job. Being a policeman for over 30 years, we have empathy, compassion,” says Langert, “and we are here to serve the public. And homeless people are part of the public ... You're helping your fellow man. To me, that's an important part of just being alive."
“He was special to us, and close to many officers here,” says Voigt, “and we felt the loss when we didn’t see him anymore."
Mercer’s cremation was paid for with help from the state. His ashes now sit in Voigt’s living room, as the police department collects money to buy him a cemetery plot.
He deserves to be treated with dignity, the officers say.
The department has also planned a memorial for Mercer. It's scheduled for Thursday, June 22, and 7 p.m., and will be held at Calvary Summit View Church in Centennial. The public is welcome.
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