Five years ago, Ceres police Sgt. Howard Stevenson was slain by an AWOL Marine.
Today, a Stockton man sits in jail awaiting trial on charges he murdered local California Highway Patrol officer Earl Scott in 2006.
Just last week, two Modesto firefighters suffered serious burns combatting a house fire.
These men were among those honored Saturday at the Blue Mass, a Catholic celebration recognizing police, firefighters and paramedics in Stanislaus County.
About 50 first responders sat in the congregation at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Modesto for the eighth annual event.
Sheriff's deputy David Waldbauer said the Mass was a meaningful gesture. He said people who are frantic and looking for help don't always think to thank him.
"It was nice to be recognized," Waldbauer said.
The Mass began with a procession of bagpipes played by law enforcement officers and a color guard. After the service, church leaders gave the squad cars, motorcycles and fire engines lined up in the parking lot a sprinkling of holy water and a blessing.
"This Mass is just beautiful," said parishioner Nancy Gutierrez, who comes every year.
Gutierrez said she took comfort from police, firefighters and paramedics who arrived when her son died. He was just 34 years old. She said she comes to the Mass "to be there for our fellows who have risked their lives for us."
Tradition began in 1934
The first Blue Mass was held in 1934 in Washington, D.C.
The Catholic tradition was centered in the Northeast until recently, its popularity spreading nationwide in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.
On Saturday, Fire Chief Jim Miguel thanked people for their "love and support" for two firefighters who fell through the roof of a burning house on New Year's Day and suffered serious burns.
"Each day, those prayers seem to make a difference in the healing of these men," Miguel said.
The Mass ended as the Modesto Fire Department rang their bell — called "the last alarm" — in tribute to those who have died in the line of duty.
That sound represents the end of a mission, Miguel said.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.