Shaky, candid home videos and snapshots documenting the lives of two slain Santa Cruz police officers played on a loop inside HP Pavilion’s massive overhead projectors Thursday.
The memorial service for Sgt. Loran “Butch” Baker, 51, and Officer Elizabeth Butler, 38, welcomed thousands of civilians and law enforcement officials into the downtown San Jose arena, following a motorcade of fire engines, motorcycles, cop cruisers, trucks and limousines that snaked its way down Highway 17. Onlookers, from first responders to Hells Angels, stood on the roadside to express their condolences, raising signs or laying down flowers on the curb.
Jeremy Goulet, a 35-year-old ex-military cop and Black Hawk helicopter pilot, ambushed the officers on the afternoon of Feb. 26 afternoon, shooting them to death with a .45 caliber handgun. Later that day officers cornered and killed Goulet, who was accused of sexually assaulting a woman he worked with at a local coffee shop. Baker and Butler became the first officers in the small beach town police department’s 150-year history to die in the line of duty.
“Those same bullets ripped the fabric of our community and our families,” former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told those gathered to honor the lives of those fallen officers. “It was an act of execution,” he continued, “at the hands of a madman.”
The service drew dignitaries, national news media and residents from dozens of Bay Area cities. The overwhelming majority of the crowd wore a uniform of some hue: khaki, navy, black or white. The same flag raised over Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attacks arrived at the ceremony, accompanied by Gilroy police officers.
Butler, just weeks away from turning 39, was remembered as a woman who loved her two young children—5 ½-year-old Joaquin and 2 ½-year-old Stellan—and her longtime partner, Peter Wu. She joined the force a decade ago and took pride in defending victims, the disadvantaged, the abandoned and the abused, her superiors said. Even when addressing suspects, Butler treated them as though they were good at the core.
Wu took to the podium the couple’s oldest son, Joaquin, who was wearing his mother’s badge-heavy navy blue police hat, and promised to raise their children to remember their mother.
Baker spent nearly three decades in the department. One of his proudest moments was when his son, Adam, joined the force with him. It renewed his already intense passion for public service, officers said. That larger-than-life personality left an indelible imprint on the organization. He was, his peers said, part of the very fabric that held them together, “a police officer through-and-through,” a prankster who jokingly installed spinner rims on a higher-up’s cop car, a quick-thinking detective who in approaching a case saw “more angles than a math professor.”
“Butch had a way of taking a perfectly serious situation and ruining it by making us laugh,” recalled Santa Cruz Deputy Chief of Police Steve Clark.
Baker left behind his wife, Kelly, and their three grown children, Jillian, Adam and Ashley. The children stepped onstage after their father’s eulogy to read a poem in his honor.
Gov. Jerry Brown sat three rows from the front. Attorney General Kamala Harris commended uniformed personnel for taking on the higher calling of public service, for waking up each morning to “put on a badge and take on all the troubles of the world.” American Idol contestant and Santa Cruz native James Durbin sang a song in tribute. Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel tearfully called Baker and Butler his mentors and friends, not just employees reporting to his charge.
“This is not something ever felt by us before in this department,” he said. “There are no words that can heal us or quick fixes to ease the pain. … Nothing can replace what was taken from us.”
Too many people turned a blind eye to the killer, Panetta told the crowd of mostly uniformed men and women who showed up to remember their fallen colleagues. The military looked the other way, his superiors, his family, his friends and neighbors.
Too many times under his watch as head of defense, Panetta said, he witnessed the violence, rape and suicide of military personnel. For some, it’s the scars of war. For others, it’s existing mental illness rearing its head under military pressures. Most of it goes unprosecuted until society pays.
“For some reason, people looked the other way,” Panetta said. “Butch and Liz chose not to look away. In doing so, they paid the ultimate price and saved the lives of others.”