Members of law enforcement agencies from around California gathered Thursday for a procession and memorial service in honor of a beloved and respected veteran Los Angeles County sheriff's sergeant who was shot and killed last week in Lancaster.
Sgt. Steve Owen, fatally shot while responding to a burglary call, was described as a "lovable bear of a man" and dedicated member of the law enforcement community during the service at Lancaster Baptist Church.
The service began after a powerful show of support by about 60 agencies from across the country. Aerial video showed hundreds of law enforcement vehicles lined up in rows early Thursday for the funeral procession. Some were adorned with blue ribbons to honor Owen's service, others had stickers with his employee number and an image of a bullfrog -- a nod to one of Owen's several nicknames.
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"He worked a variety of assignments. The one constant has always been Steve's enthusiasm for seeking out those who would do our community harm," said Capt. Pat Nelson, unit commander for Lancaster Sheriff's Station. "He truly loved his team and his community."
The procession of vehicles was so long that the last vehicle departed about 30 minutes after the group at the head of the line.
Residents, some standing in salute, lined the route to the church, where officers on horseback waited at the entrance. Owen's horse Max stood riderless with the sergeant's boots turned backward in the stirrups -- a solemn salute to the decorated 29-year sheriff's department veteran.
Max peeled off from the group and followed the hearse carrying the body of Sgt. Owen into the church parking lot. Owen's mother, Millie, gave the horse a hug before entering the service.
A phalanx of officers saluted and a lone bagpiper played as Owen's flag-draped casket was carried into the church, where the sheriff, deputies, other department employees, friends and family members shared stories about "The Bullfrog."
"He was a big teddy bear," said Linda Collis, a family friend. "When you hear a story and think a deputy can't be that awesome, just know that he was so much more."
After the service, the flag that draped Owen's casket was presented to his family as bagpipers played "Amazing Grace." Sheriff's department helicopters thundered overhead with one flying off from the formation.
"Epitome of Humility"
His family released a statement about Sgt. Owen to share the story of a dedicated lawman. Family members who spoke at Thursday's memorial recalled a loving father who was always strong, but could also be gentle when someone was in need.
Son Branden Owen told the church full of uniformed officers and others that he was in "awe" of his father.
"As kids, you always look up to superheroes," said Branden Owen. "In movies, in comics and video games. I looked up to a superhero I lived with every day. A superhero who went by the name of 'Dad.'
"I could stand up here for days and talk about his life, and it wouldn't even come close to describing his life and the impact that he had."
Owen and his wife, Tania, met on the job and initially worked together on a gang enforcement detail.
"Things didn't start with love at first sight," McDonnell said. "Both had gone to their sergeant to request to work with different partners. He told them, you don't get to pick your partners, go work it out. And, they did."
Tania Owen also taught self-defense classes to women in the Antelope Valley. Her husband, always willing to lend his services for public safety, volunteered to wear the "Redman suit" -- protective full body gear worn by an individual playing the role of the attacker.
"He allowed more than a thousand women to demonstrate their new-found self-defense skills by pummeling him repeatedly," said McDonnell. "He was not afraid of a little pain to keep others safe."
His son, Chadd, read a message from Owen's wife at the service.
"Trying to describe the love I felt for Steve was like trying to count the stars, and I would always be looking for more."
The couple went on to work with the sheriff's Explorer Program, which helps provide youth mentor opportunities that often lead to careers in law enforcement. He delivered toys to children at Christmas and clothes to people who needed them to stay warm during the winter.
Owen's wife is now a detective with the department's arson-explosives detail. He has two adult sons and a step-daughter.
"The pursuits and exciting moments were great, but the stories that come from the lives he touched were more important," said Chadd Owen. "He is the epitome of humility. Our dad isn't going anywhere, he's in heaven right now watching over this community and us."
Owen's death sparked an outpouring of grief, with many in the Antelope Valley praising him for his service, conduct and community involvement, especially with area youths. He was remembered at vigils and the city's mayor announced that he would ask the city council to rename Lancaster Community Park as Sgt. Steve Owen Community Park.
That support extended beyond California and law enforcement. Owen had planned to fulfill a dream of watching his team, the Minnesota Vikings, by making a trip to see them at their new stadium in Minneapolis. His family made the trip Sunday and watched as the team displayed a tribute to Owen on a giant monitor during the game.
About the Shooting
Owen was killed at 12:30 p.m. Oct. 5 in the 3200 block of West Avenue J-7, where he had responded to a burglary report. The suspected shooter, Trenton Trevon Lovell, 27, is a parolee in custody and charged with capital murder, among other charges.
McDonnell said that Lovell shot Owen behind a residence after being confronted by the sergeant, who radioed that he had the suspect at gunpoint before he was shot.
"He (Lovell) then stood over and executed Sgt. Owen by firing four additional rounds into his body," McDonnell said. "He then unsuccessfully searched the body for the sergeant's weapon with the intent to use it to murder the first responding deputy."
Owen's wife made it to the hospital before her husband died, according to sheriff's Executive Officer Neal Tyler. One of Owen's two adult sons and his stepdaughter, as well his mother, also were at his bedside, Tyler said.
McDonnell said Thursday's funeral was especially poignant following police killings Wednesday night in Boston and last week in Palm Springs, California.
"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," McDonnell said. "Unfortunately with the two murders in Palm Springs and what happened last night in Boston it doesn't seem like it's subsiding."