Thousands pay tribute at services for fallen fellow officer, Kevin Tonn

kminugh@sacbee.comJanuary 22, 2013 

Upon hearing that one of his officers had been shot, Galt Police Chief William Bowen insisted the man's body never be left alone – not at the hospital, not even at the coroner's office.

And so it was Monday, as thousands came from across the Sacramento region and the state to stand by Officer Kevin Tonn's side as they paid their respects to a man they remembered as a dedicated public servant.

His beloved K-9 partner, a German shepherd named Yaro, stood close by, whimpering through the memorial service and the gravesite ceremonies that would follow.

Dressed in his own impeccably pressed and polished Galt police uniform, Tonn's younger cousin, Jarrett Tonn, marveled at the "impressive" turnout of mourners who had come to say goodbye.

"I think it speaks to who Kevin was and what he's done with his life," he said.

Kevin Tonn, 35, was fatally shot last Tuesday morning after responding to a reported burglary in Galt. His suspected shooter, 30-year-old Humphrey Gascon, then turned the gun on himself.

Tonn's death sent shock waves through his small department, a force of fewer than 40.

Retired Chief Loren Cattolico, who hired Tonn, said he wept upon hearing of his death. He marveled at Tonn's commitment to the Galt Police Department despite opportunities to work at bigger, higher-paying departments in the region.

"He wasn't interested in any of that," Cattolico said. "He wanted to be in Galt. He wanted to be a part of the community."

Those who worked with Tonn described him as a hard worker and committed public servant who had a special interest in the town's youths.

Bowen joked several times about Tonn's prized "K-9 cards" – much like baseball cards – on which Tonn boasted goals of getting guns off the streets and "taking bad guys to jail."

He told a story about a group of Girl Scouts who recently visited the Police Department. Tonn spoke to the group and waited patiently as each girl stopped to pet Yaro. Each one got a K-9 card and a demonstration of Yaro's latest trick – opening the patrol car door with his snout.

An emotional Bowen spoke of other fallen officers – some of them friends of Bowen's – welcoming Tonn to heaven, and then broke the tension by joking that Tonn's first question would be, "Where's the K-9 unit?"

Tonn was, after all, a jokester, his friends recalled, a man full of antics and humor. But even more, Tonn was remembered for his strong moral code and his desire to serve others. He believed being a police officer was a higher calling than any other, his loved ones said, and getting sworn in to the Galt Police Department – where he would join his cousin – was a lifelong goal.

Raised in the Sacramento region by parents Will and Mary Ann Tonn, Kevin joined the Roseville Police Explorers program as a teen. After graduating from Roseville High, he joined the U.S. Army as a military police officer at New York's Fort Drum. He later worked as a firefighter — first volunteer, then full-time – before he returned home to California.

He put himself through the Sacramento County Sheriff's Academy in 2009 and was sworn in to the Galt Police Department that fall.

Retired Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness did not know Tonn personally, but reflected on a challenge he gave Tonn's academy class – to build upon and improve the law enforcement profession.

By all accounts, McGinness said, Tonn took that mission seriously and succeeded.

"You knew what was right, and you did it," he said, speaking to Tonn. "You left the law enforcement and its reputation better than you found it. RIP, Comrade."

Cattolico said Tonn demonstrated a "natural ease" in police work that "not everyone has," and said he was the type of police officer any chief would want to hire.

"He served this community with honesty, integrity and unwavering commitment," Cattolico said.

He read a letter from a man Tonn had arrested for drunken driving in which the man thanked Tonn for his professionalism and for forcing him to deal with his demons.

"Please take care of yourself," the man's letter ended. "Be careful out there."

"Kevin Tonn lived a life that mattered," Cattolico said after finishing the letter. "He touched all our lives, and we are all better for it."

As is customary at any law enforcement funeral, dignitaries and officers from all over California came to honor Tonn. This service, however, drew a remarkable contingent of K-9 officers and their partners, who restlessly lined the sidewalks outside Adventure Christian Church, and later the rows of East Lawn Mortuary in Citrus Heights.

There, officers conducted full military and law enforcement honors, including the playing of bagpipes, a 21-gun salute and a helicopter fly-by.

For many, the events culminated a week of sadness and grief. But an emotional and impassioned Jarrett Tonn had a different take on his cousin's death.

"It is sad, and it is awful, but it is not a tragedy," he said. "Giving one's life to protect others is never a tragedy.

"Kevin knew that, he believed that, and he lived that until his final breath."

MEMORIAL FUND FOR OFFICER KEVIN TONN

A memorial fund has been set up for Officer Kevin Tonn at Premier West Bank, 9340 E. Stockton Blvd., Elk Grove, 95624. The account number is 82804382.

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