'Missing a big piece of the puzzle': Calif. deputies remember fallen LEO a year later
Deputy Phillip Campas was shot and killed while responding as part of a SWAT team
By Ishani Desai
The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A solemn sight greets SWAT team members in their basement locker room at the Kern County Sheriff's Office headquarters.
A black flag bearing badge number 1392 drapes a table where slain Deputy Phillip Campas always sat during meetings with dozens of SWAT members.
One year after he was killed in the line of duty, no one claims his spot.
Campas died July 25, 2021, in a Wasco mass shooting which also left the shooter dead. Jose Manuel Ramirez, 47, killed his wife, Viviana Ruiz Ramirez, and sons Jose Manuel Ramirez III, 24, and Angel Ramirez, 17.
Campas and fellow SWAT member Senior Deputy Dizander Guerrero were responding to the house when bullets hit them both. Guerrero survived, but Campas died at Kern Medical.
"(It feels) like something is missing," said KCSO SWAT team member Ralph Lomas, who is also Phillip Campas' cousin. "(The SWAT team is) just missing a big piece of the puzzle."
Campas' death didn't just impact the SWAT team, which is like a family, Lomas noted. Everyone in the KCSO knew Campas because he was a recruit training officer, served on the honor guard and excelled at shooting guns on the range. He was a leader on the SWAT team, was revered as a Parris Island drill instructor in the Marine Corps, and achieved No. 1 in the KCSO academy and No. 1 when trying out for the SWAT team.
"It's the nightmare that you don't ever want to happen," said KCSO Sgt. Dustin Contreras, a supervisor on the honor guard.
Lomas said he has been the rock for his family and allows others to express their emotions to him. But when the SWAT team gets called to situations similar to what happened a year ago, it's "nerve-wracking," and it took Lomas time to acclimate.
Deputy Julio Garcia, also a SWAT team member, partnered with Phillip Campas at the Sheriff's Training Facility, and deals with his loss by visiting Campas' family. He's become even closer to Campas' parents, and teaches Phillip's son, Eli, football. Campas was the quarterback at East Bakersfield High School and would have provided tips to his son.
"When we are together, to me, it just feels like I am closer to Phil," Garcia said. "It's still rough."
For some KCSO members, it's been like a fog, Contreras said. Some can navigate their emotions, while other honor guard members can't put on their uniforms without it being too hard.
The honor guard finds solace in acting like Phillip Campas — whether that be through serving the community when it's hard, or understanding they must put family first, Contreras noted. A sense of duty, not pride, propelled Campas to service. He was not defined by his job. He was a son, dad and husband, who happened to be a cop.
"You could not help not being affected by what he did," Contreras said. "He didn't impose it on you. It was a clear example."
Lomas, the godfather to Campas' daughters, said he lost his best friend. Campas would have been the best man at his wedding and godfather of his children. On tough days, Lomas heads to Bakersfield National Cemetery to think, and once ran into Jesse Campas, Phillip Campas' father, also seeking solace at the gravesite.
Being around the SWAT team also took his mind off everything, Lomas noted. Their practice day rolls around and it's like family coming together, with jokes and laughs. Of course, everyone is serious when it's time to be, Lomas dutifully said.
But how does the team fill that hole?
"You can't. We haven't," Lomas said. "You cannot fill that hole."
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