Thousands gather to mourn loss of Pineville firefighter

PINEVILLE, N.C. — Most of them didn't know Richard Sheltra. But thousands, each with their own reason, brought cameras, fold-up chairs and small American flags to pay respect to his service Saturday.

A procession carried Sheltra's casket from the funeral home to the service at Forest Hill Church. Along the way, area fire departments raised American flags on ladder trucks to honor the volunteer firefighter.

Sheltra, 20, died last weekend from smoke inhalation while battling a fire in a Pineville shopping center.

Nearly 2,000 people attended Sheltra’s public memorial service at Forest Hill Church.

Click play to watch the final call for Richard Sheltra:

At the memorial service for Sheltra, his cousin and best friend Christina Sheltra said Richard was “loyal, humble, committed and inspiring.”

Others said the standout with the Pineville Volunteer Fire Department was applying to become a Charlotte firefighter before his death. Although his life was cut short, loved ones encouraged everyone to remember the goodness he shared and to know that he lives on.

"My cousin is standing with Jesus today,” Christina Sheltra said. “He is standing in the glory of the Lord ... He's the realest self now.”

The church sat about 2,500 and leaders said almost all seats were full.

Bill Suthard, the spokesman for the Pineville Volunteer Fire Department, said the outpouring of love from the community and strength in the department is a testament to the type of person Sheltra was.

“Now we know that the community has our back when we're in a time of need,” Suthard said.

Sheltra’s fellow first responders finished cleaning and outfitting Fire Engine 4 on Friday. It has a brand-new hose and has been adorned with a wreath and his number, 73.

"They're a brotherhood, they're a family and they're so super supportive of each other," said Carol Wood, whose son is a Charlotte firefighter and also a volunteer with the Pineville Volunteer Fire Department.

Most of the people lining the route had no connection to the department.

"I'm doing this just because I feel the need to do this you know it helps heal my heart ... to pay my respects," Mary Edwards, of Charlotte, said.

After the service, the truck carried Sheltra's casket back by the fire station where he dedicated so much of his time.

It paused briefly. Then as it restarted, one of two firefighters on the back of the truck patted the casket as it drove off.

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