Hundreds gathered Wednesday for Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller’s memorial at Cabrillo College under sunny skies. Gutzwiller, a former Cabrillo student and Aptos resident, was gunned down while on duty June 6 in Ben Lomond.
The memorial began at 7:45am with a miles-long motorcade at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk that threaded its way through Santa Cruz, Capitola and Soquel before arriving at Carl Conelly Stadium at Cabrillo’s Aptos campus.
Headed up by a double-file line of more than 80 police motorcycles, the hearse carrying Gutzwiller was then followed by a phalanx of patrol cars, special law units, a SWAT team, fire personal, paramedics, 911 dispatchers, State Parks Rangers, tow truck operators and more. Some came from as far away as San Diego, San Francisco, Fresno and Los Angeles.
“I’m proud of this community,” said Damon Bruder, who watched the procession from the sidewalk in Santa Cruz. “This is sad, but it is necessary. I hope people realize we need our law officials—our first responders.”
Angela Farley said she felt it was “very important” to join the crowds along Soquel Avenue. “I’m out here to show support for his family and those in public service,” she said. “I had to be out here to honor his sacrifice.”
Thousands of people lined the procession route. Watsonville Fire Battalion Chief Corey Schaefer said he was proud to take part. “Being in it was overwhelming. I’ve never been in something that size,” he said. “I was glad to see such an outpouring and public support. It was a different atmosphere; it was powerful.”
With a huge swath of uniformed officers and others covering the athletic field, Gutzwiller’s flag-draped casket, carried by a half-dozen formally attired, white-gloved deputies, was ushered onto the field by the San Jose Police Department Emerald Society bagpipe band. They were followed immediately by his wife, Favi del Real, their 2-year-old boy, Carter, and Sheriff Jim Hart.
Pastor René Schlaepfer welcomed the crowd and led the ceremony on a flower festooned stage. “Today the world is undoubtedly a better place because of Damon,” he said.
He went on to emphasize that Gutzwiller was recognized for his “humor, patience, loving nature, giant heart and ever-present smile.”
Speaking of the day of the killing, Hart told the audience, “It was a bad call. But those people, what our people, our CHPs, what our deputies did that day saved many, many lives.” Hart said that more than 40 officers responded to the incident in Ben Lomond.
Mark Ramos, retired Santa Cruz Fire Deputy Chief, said Gutzwiller was part of his family. “We talked about cops, robbers, good guys, bad guys, fires, car chases and family,” he recounted before the gathering of fellow mourners.
Del Real described her late husband as “compassionate and caring.” “He was always kind, loving and respectful, never so much as raising his voice at me. Never,” she said. “From the start he was always thinking about me, putting me first and making sure I was OK.”
Del Real said she’d told Gutzwiller at first she did not want to have children. But that quickly changed. “As I grew to know and love him, I wanted to have children with him,” she said through tears. “I wanted to have children because he would be their father. I knew he would be a great father … for a short time, I was able to see he wasn’t just a great father: He was amazing.”
Del Real said Carter got a scooter for his birthday last month, and Gutzwiller bought a matching one. She remembers Gutzwiller telling her that he couldn’t wait to have father-son scooter rides. “They were only able to have one,” she said.
Schlaepfer urged the audience to move forward with the selflessness Gutzwiller exemplified. “We can never overcome evil with evil, only with good. So seek to multiply the good in Damon’s life into your own,” he said. “He laid down his life for his friends.”