Slain Galt police officer served others since high school

01/17/2013 12:00 AM

10/22/2014 1:41 PM

Kevin Tonn was just a teenager – a high school freshman – when he began showing a lifelong interest in serving others.

He was a Roseville Police Explorer, then a military police officer in the U.S. Army. Later, he worked as a firefighter and paramedic.

In 2009, Tonn finally fulfilled his dream: Back home in the Sacramento region, Tonn joined the Galt Police Department, where he could work alongside a cousin he likened to a brother.

He had answered his calling.

"Public safety was extremely important to him," said his cousin Jarrett Tonn, a Galt police detective. "Having a job where he could help people – he saw that as being the highest thing somebody could do."

The cousins, whose fathers are identical twins, have long been close, Jarrett Tonn said. So wearing the same uniform in the same small town was like a "surreal dream come true," the cousin said.

That dream came to a heartbreaking end Tuesday when Kevin Tonn, 35, was fatally shot on duty while searching for a burglary suspect.

His alleged shooter, 30-year-old Humphrey Kenneth Gascon, then turned the gun on himself.

Tonn had been on the force 3 1/2 years, but already he had been promoted to the sought-after K-9 unit, where he worked with his beloved partner, a German shepherd named Yaro.

The impact Tonn had on his community despite his short time with the department was clear Wednesday night, when hundreds of family members, friends, fellow officers and strangers gathered at Galt Community Park to pay tribute to the man described as a fallen hero.

One after another, speakers shared stories about how Tonn had touched their lives and praised his commitment to the community's youths.

Tonn's girlfriend, Robin Gist, said he would have been "absolutely amazed" by the love and support shown that night.

"Now, he'll watch over all of us forever," she said.

Kevin Tonn grew up in Sacramento County, then in Roseville, where he graduated from Roseville High and the Roseville Police Explorers program before enlisting in the U.S. Army. He worked as a military police officer at Fort Drum in New York, then as a volunteer firefighter and paramedic. He later returned to Fort Drum as a federal firefighter.

Tonn returned home in time to join the Sacramento County Sheriff's Academy in January 2009 in hopes of becoming a Galt police officer like his younger cousin. It was an extended night academy program he paid for himself, his friends and family said.

Academy classmate Eric Tiffany said Tonn stood out as the "ham of the group," a man with a playful sense of humor that buoyed his classmates.

"He would always have us laughing," said Tiffany, who works as a correctional officer for El Dorado County and a reserve deputy for Yolo County. "That's what made the hard days easier."

More so, Tonn stood out as a natural leader among his classmates, Tiffany said. He was a man with a strong code, high expectations for himself and for those around him, his friend said.

"He was always honest. He had integrity. He walked a certain line," said Tiffany, who stayed close with Tonn after the academy. "You always knew you were going to get the truth, and that's what he expected from you."

Tiffany said the news of Tonn's death had shaken his fellow graduates, many of whom remain in touch.

"Our academy class cherished him," he said. "He was a good person and we all loved him."

Tonn's death followed a 911 call of an in-progress burglary in the 200 block of F Street in Galt. As one of the responding officers, Tonn confronted a man walking in the area who matched the description of the burglary suspect, according to the Sheriff's Department, which is investigating the shooting.

The men struggled before the suspect pulled out a handgun and shot Tonn once. The suspect then fired at arriving officers before shooting himself.

On Wednesday, sheriff's Sgt. Jason Ramos said investigators had confirmed that the gunman – identified by the Coroner's Office as Gascon – was not tied to the reported burglary.

Authorities were still trying to make sense of why Gascon, not wanted for a crime, reacted so violently.

He has no documented criminal history in Sacramento County, according to Superior Court records available online, and Galt police officials said his history included only traffic violations.

Galt Police Lt. Jim Uptegrove said Gascon had not been validated by law enforcement as a gang member. However, a search of the Galt home where he stayed with his mother indicated he was affiliated with the Norteño street gang, Uptegrove said.

Had he complied with Tonn, Gascon likely would have faced a felony charge of carrying a loaded firearm in public, Uptegrove said. He said he did not know whether Gascon legally possessed the gun.

The revelation that Gascon was not tied to the initial crime came as a shock to many, including those in law enforcement community.

Ramos described it as an "untimely trick of fate that brought these two together."

He noted that what Tonn was doing – attempting to contact a person who matched a suspect description – is a routine part of being a cop.

"Officer Tonn was doing his job well," Ramos said.

Tonn's family attended a brief news conference Wednesday afternoon in which their pastor, Jim Barstow, read a written statement.

"Our hearts are broken and crushed over the loss of our beloved son," he read on behalf of Tonn's parents, Will and Mary Ann Tonn of Lincoln. "We will miss him always."

The Tonns added that they harbor "absolutely no ill will" toward the suspect and that they "wish the best for everyone involved."

Jarrett Tonn said he is especially grateful for the officers who tried to help his cousin despite being under gunfire from the suspect. Jarrett himself was on duty at the time and responded to the scene within minutes, having felt in his gut – then heard over the radio – that it was his cousin who had been shot.

Asked whether he will be able to return to work after the trauma, Jarrett Tonn said that it would be difficult – but necessary.

"That's the reality of our jobs. It is dangerous and every police officer that goes out there knows the risks," he said. "We can't change what we do based on a tragedy like this happening, or the bad guys win.

"We can't let that happen."

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