LANCASTER, Calif. – Hundreds of law enforcement officers from across the nation were among the mourners who packed a church in the California desert community of Lancaster on Thursday to memorialize a Los Angeles County sheriff's sergeant gunned down during a burglary investigation.
A lone bagpiper played and a phalanx of deputies saluted as Sgt. Steve Owen's flag-draped coffin was carried into Lancaster Baptist Church after a procession of more than 1,000 vehicles wound its way through the Antelope Valley neighborhoods that he served.
A mounted sheriff's unit gathered at formation while Owen's horse, Max, stood by, riderless. The sergeant's mother, Millie, gave the black horse a hug before entering the church.
Pastor Paul Chappell welcomed visitors including Gov. Jerry Brown, Owen's family and friends, and representatives of more than 60 police agencies from as far away as New York.
Chappell remembered Owen as "cop's cop," a great investigator and a respected community leader with an abiding Christian faith.
Owen, a 29-year sheriff's veteran, was fatally shot on Oct. 5 as he answered a report of a burglary at an apartment building in the city north of Los Angeles.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell praised Owen's professionalism and reputation as a "hardworking street cop."
"'Taking the bad guy to jail,' that was his motto," McDonnell recalled.
The sheriff read remembrances from deputies who served under Owen and from whom he "commanded instant respect."
"'No matter what he asked we would do it because we knew that if Sarge was in charge, everything would be OK,'" McDonnell read.
Chadd Owen, the sergeant's oldest son, read a statement written by his widow, Tanya Owen, a sheriff's deputy. The couple met two decades ago when they were both assigned to a gang enforcement team at the Lancaster station.
"Steve was the love of my life," she wrote, remembering him as a "teddy bear," an excellent water skier and an inveterate gardener of peppers, garlic, onions and cilantro — "everything needed to make salsa."
Prosecutors said the gunman shot Owen, then stood over his body and fired four more shots.
The paroled robber aimed the gun at another deputy, stole Owen's patrol car, rammed another patrol car, and held two teenagers at knifepoint before he was arrested, authorities said.
Trenton Lovell, who has a long arrest record, has been charged with murder.
McDonnell told reporters that Thursday's funeral was especially poignant following recent police killings.
"We wish for our sake, for our family's sake and for our community's sake we can put this kind of behavior behind us and move forward," he said. "Unfortunately with the two murders in Palm Springs and what happened last night in Boston it doesn't seem like it's subsiding."
Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris said he will ask the City Council to rename a community park in Owen's name.