Video: Thousands gather to mourn Calif. deputy killed in ambush

Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller was remembered for his devotion, good nature and shining example

Nicholas Ibarra
Santa Cruz Sentinel

APTOS, Calif. — Good-natured, devoted to his family, rock-steady on the job and a shining example of a deputy — so Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller was remembered at a memorial ceremony Wednesday at Cabrillo College.

“Some things are too big, too beautiful to describe, and the picture will never do it justice,” said his wife, Faviola Del Real. “That’s how it was with Damon.”

“You made all of our lives so much brighter and without you, it will take a little while for our eyes to adjust,” said Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Steve Ryan of his one-time patrol partner.

Del Real and Ryan were among those who spoke before an audience of more than 2,000 deputies, officers and first responders from across the state, who filled Cabrillo’s Carl Conelly Stadium with a sea of khaki, green and blue.

Hundreds of family, community members and other mourners were also in attendance, while thousands more watched from home via a livestream.

Gutzwiller, 38, was killed in the line of duty June 6 after a man ambushed deputies at a Ben Lomond home. A second deputy, Alex Spencer, and a California Highway Patrol officer were injured in the firefight.

It had been more than three decades since a Sheriff’s Office deputy was killed on duty. Deputy Michael Gray was shot after he stopped a suspicious-looking hitchhiker on Highway 9 across from Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park on Jan. 3, 1983.

Air Force Sgt. Steven Carrillo, 32, of Ben Lomond, has been charged by the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office with 19 criminal counts related to murder, attempted murder, carjacking and other charges.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced federal criminal murder and attempted murder charges related to a separate May 29 case against Carrillo involving the shooting death of a guard at the federal courthouse in Oakland.

Speaking at Wednesday’s ceremony, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart said Gutzwiller was a role model in his department who fully embraced the practice of community policing.

“Policing to him meant trying to communicate his way out of a problem — always remembering that all of us are part of this community,” Hart said. “If I could fill my department with Damon Gutzwillers, I would.”

“We gather today as a community and a nation in pain,” Hart added. “Pain that’s vivid and on display on every street in every city in this state and country. And there’s a hole in our heart, and there’s a hole that Damon’s memory will fill, reminding us of how he lived his life, how he served his community and how he protected and loved his family.”

Gutzwiller was born June 29, 1981, in Santa Monica.

He moved to Santa Cruz County with his mother, Vicki Gutzwiller, in 1989 — first living in Live Oak and later moving to Watsonville.

Gutzwiller attended Soquel High and then Aptos High, where he graduated in 1999. He went on to earn an associate’s degree from Cabrillo College.

It was at Cabrillo that Gutzwiller first became involved in law enforcement, volunteering at the service center under then-Sergeant Hart.

Gutzwiller joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2006. During his 14 years with the office, he held roles including patrol deputy, court bailiff, field training officer, SWAT operator and Unmanned Aerial System pilot before being promoted to sergeant in 2019.

Gutzwiller met Del Real in 2012. Their son, Carter, was born in 2018. Del Real is expecting the couple’s second child later this month.

“Favi and Carter were the stuff that dreams are made of for Damon — and with another one on the way he was strutting pretty proud of himself, trying not to brag about his good fortune,” said retired deputy fire chief Mark Ramos, who said Gutzwiller was like a son to him.

Donations continued to pour into an online fundraiser in support of Gutzwiller’s family, which had raised more than $683,000 as of Wednesday afternoon.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra traveled to Aptos to pay their respects Wednesday, according to Hart.

Hart thanked Newsom for allowing the ceremony to take place in a time of the state’s ongoing stay-home order; members of the public were encouraged to watch from home to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19.

The memorial ceremony began with a procession of law enforcement and fire vehicles who escorted Gutzwiller’s casket from Santa Cruz to Aptos.

Among those posted along the procession route before 8 a.m. was Live Oak resident Linda Fessette. Fessette said she had come out to show support for Gutzwiller’s family and for law enforcement officers in general.

“I was devastated. My daughter used to live up in Felton,” Fessette said. “It can happen anywhere, right? But when it happens in your hometown.…”

At the memorial ceremony, Debbie Johnson of Aptos, a sports official, shared similar motivations for coming out in person Wednesday. Johnson said she was in Scotts Valley on June 6, the day Gutzwiller was shot, and knew something was seriously wrong as she watched the large law enforcement response drive by.

“What was done to this young man was just totally not warranted,” Johnson said of Gutzwiller. “He’s the same age as my son, and it just devastates me (to think about) that if I would lose my son, who abides by the rules, has a good family, honorable, happy, just true. It just breaks my heart.”

Twin Lakes Church Pastor René Schlaepfer presided over the ceremony, delivering remarks and reading notes sent in by Gutzwiller’s friends and colleagues between speakers.

“Every day when Damon got up he offered his life in service, like many of you,” Schlaepfer said. “Why did he do it? Well, I think you’ve heard why today. A loving nature, a giant heart, loyalty, dedication to his calling. Now, if you believe — as I believe, as Sheriff Hart believes — that the world needs more people like that, let’s all be like Damon.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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