‘Warrior in a human body’: Tampa officer laid to rest after lengthy brain cancer battle

Hillsborough County

The officer leaves behind a wife and two young children

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Gary McNeal began his son’s eulogy Tuesday morning with a request.

“I want you to realize today is a celebration. So you can take a deep breath. There’s a lot of formality, I love watching it, but this is, really is truly a celebration day. So, I want you to celebrate with us,” he said.

He wanted those who were grieving this tremendous loss to take comfort that his son is now at peace after battling brain cancer.

Officer Matthew McNeal was just 34 years old when he passed away shortly after New Year’s Day. The married father-of-two had accomplished so much in his short life.

He was first and foremost a family man – a man of faith who dedicated his life to God and encouraged others to do the same. He wanted to lead by example, and he did.

“We deeply appreciate your prayers,” said Officer McNeal’s father. “Many of you prayed and let us know you were praying regularly for Matthew.”

The veteran officer was a Tampa native who married his high school sweetheart – the love of his life.

His other loves were his children, nine-year-old Madison and seven-year-old Elias.

“Your support and prayers were a special blessing to us,” said Gary McNeal.

The young officer served for more than seven years as a part of the bicycle operations and response team for the Tampa Police Department where he made countless friends who considered him family.

Officer McNeal was known for making friends wherever he went, deeply connected to helping others as part of his faith.

“It’s real hard to talk about a great man when you wish he was still with us. I know he’s in a better place now, I want to call him, drop him a text,” Ed Hernandez, a close friend who spoke at Officer McNeal’s funeral said.

Before his time with TPD, the 34-year-old graduated from Hillsborough Community College and worked as a corrections officer with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

Officer McNeal had one major goal in his professional life. Serve the city he loved, show kindness to citizens, and always encourage others with compassion through his deeply-rooted faith.

“He was a warrior for his wife. He was a warrior for his kids. If there was ever a warrior in a human body, it was Matt, I love you brother and I’ll see you soon,” Hernandez said.

After losing their son, Officer McNeal’s parents say they have started a journal, each day they write down a memory about their son.

They say they want to remember every last detail about his remarkable life and the years they shared with him.

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