EL CAJON, Calif. -- Grieving family members, law enforcement colleagues and political leaders gathered Friday to bid farewell to a “courageous, selfless'' San Diego Police Department veteran killed last week in the line of duty.
Thousands of police personnel from around the region, state and nation crowded the chapel and grounds of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon in a show of respect and affection for gang-enforcement Officer Jonathan “J.D.'' De Guzman, who died in a hail of bullets at age 43 during a pedestrian stop in Southcrest late on the night of July 28.
Much of the law enforcement contingent arrived at the event via a miles- long motorcade that accompanied De Guzman's casket from Mission Valley to the East County. Along the route, hundreds of spectators gathered to watch the procession, some waving American flags and signs bearing words of praise and respect.
Despite De Guzman's ultimate sacrifice, the 16-year member of San Diego's police force “didn't become a hero last week,'' retired SDPD pastor Ben Harris told the assembly of mourners, among them Gov. Jerry Brown and state Attorney General Kamala Harris.
“He became a hero when he chose to live a life of safety and calmness and (when) he stepped forward into his place on the thin blue line, protecting the citizens of San Diego,'' Harris said.
Describing a meeting he had with the slain officer's family last weekend, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he had found it “easy to see how J.D. became the courageous, selfless man that we're honoring here today.''
When De Guzman decided to seek a career in law enforcement, his loved ones thought he was “too nice'' to be a police officer, the mayor told the crowd.
“It's what made J.D. the perfect officer -- because he was a nice guy, because he cared,'' he said.
Faulconer told the assembly that everyone would do well to “follow J.D.'s example.''
“We must never stop caring,'' he said. “We're going to keep strengthening the bonds between police officers and our communities. We're going to keep forging pathways to opportunities so we can end the cycle of violence. And we're never going to stop helping each other, because J.D. never stopped helping us.''
San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, who patted the slain officer's flag-draped coffin before addressing the crowd, praised De Guzman as a model member of her department and “a wonderful, caring mentor, a friend to all.''
“J.D. wasn't just a good man -- he was a great man,'' Zimmerman said.
The chief described meeting De Guzman early on in his police career, when she was a lieutenant and both were assigned to the department's Mid-City Division. Though that area presents law enforcement with many challenges, including gang crime and a diverse population that speaks dozens of languages, De Guzman from the beginning went about his duties with an “easygoing demeanor helped him excel in gaining rapport with everyone,'' Zimmerman said.
“Everybody liked him,'' she told the gathering. “As he would approach you, he would flash his big smile, and positive energy was just all around him.''
De Guzman was an exemplary lawman, in large part, because he “truly cared about everyone,'' Zimmerman said.
“J.D. was respectful, loving, passionate and empathetic,'' she said.
Several of the slain officer's rank-and-file colleagues praised De Guzman, a native of the Philippines who emigrated to San Diego when he was 20, as a consistently cheerful, generous and supportive colleague and a dedicated son and father to his own two children, a 17-year-old boy and 10-year- old girl.
Fe De Guzman prompted a standing ovation with her tearful testament to her son, who always stopped to take a moment with her and her husband before leaving for work, “to pray, to share his love, his gratefulness for us, and to pray that he would come back home.''
“This simple act was also our last moment with him,'' she said. “That night, he did not come back home. That makes us remember how precious life is.''
De Guzman's son, Jonathan Jr., lovingly spoke of his father as a man who had harbored some fond and unlikely fantasies about opening a hotel, bar or restaurant, or returning to his home country to run for governor there.
“His death motivates me to achieve my dreams and create a positive impact toward the world,'' the high school senior said, adding that he was “very pleased with the amount of people here today, because my father secretly wanted to be famous one day.''
The several-hour service was followed outside the chapel with a 21-gun salute, a bugle performance of “Taps'' and a helicopter fly-over. A second lengthy procession of law enforcement vehicles then accompanied the hearse carrying De Guzman's casket to Glen Abbey Memorial Park in Bonita for an interment ceremony.
The gunfire that killed De Guzman and wounded his partner, Officer Wade Irwin, 32, erupted moments after the two officers pulled over to talk to a man behaving suspiciously in a neighborhood just east of the intersection of Interstate 5 and state Route 15.
Five rounds struck De Guzman while he was still seated behind the wheel of his cruiser. Irwin, who had gotten out of the squad car to question the pedestrian, suffered a serious but non-life-threatening neck wound.
The alleged assailant, 52-year-old ex-con Jesse Michael Gomez, was critically injured by Irwin's return fire and remains hospitalized.
On Tuesday, Gomez was arraigned at UCSD Medical Center on charges of murder, attempted murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm, and was ordered to remain in custody in lieu of $5 million bail. A special circumstance allegation of murder of a police officer makes Gomez eligible for the death penalty if he's convicted.
Authorities have disclosed no suspected motive for the deadly shooting.
The San Diego Police Officers Association is collecting money for De Guzman's family. Donations can be mailed to the San Diego Police Officers Association, 8388 Vickers St., San Diego, CA 92111, or made online at sdpoa.org/about-widows-orphans-fund/.
SDPOA officials asked contributors to include “Officer Jonathan De Guzman'' in the notes of the online donation or on the memo lines of their checks.
Donors can also text “DeGuzman'' to 41444 for a response with a link to the SDPOA charity's page.
Contributions to aid in Irwin's recovery expenses can be made at gofundme.com/irwinfamilyfund.