Family members of peace officers who die in the line of duty have something in common, retired California Highway Patrol Sgt. Don Burt Sr. said Wednesday.
They want their loved one to never be forgotten.
Burt made his comments during a memorial service held July 13 on virtually the same spot where his son, CHP Officer Don Burt, was murdered during a car stop 20 years ago to the day.
It was indeed obvious Burt was not forgotten.
A poster-sized photo of Burt rested on a stand in the rear parking lot of a gas station where he was killed.
Present for the memorial were Burt’s widow, son, former co-workers and dozens of CHP officers.
Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes, FPD captains John Siko and Scott Rudisil, and at least a dozen other current and former FPD personnel also turned out for the memorial.
University police from Cal State Fullerton also were on hand.
“The loss of a loved one is never easy,” Burt Sr. said. “The loss of a loved one in a line-of-duty death is devastating.”
Burt was 25 and on the job for only 15 months on July 13, 1996 when he was impounding a vehicle after a car stop after discovering the driver had a suspended license.
When he searched the trunk, Burt found counterfeit traveler’s checks and forged payroll checks.
The suspect then pulled a 9mm handgun and shot Burt six times.
Burt was lying on the ground when the suspect stole his gun and shot him execution style in the head and then stole Burt’s patrol car and fled.
The killer was arrested days later in Houston.
Fullerton Police handled the investigation, which turned out to be complex and included death threats made to the deputy district attorney and witnesses.
The suspect eventually pleaded guilty to the murder, along with murder-for-hire charges.
In June, 2000, the killer was sentenced to death.
“Today is obviously not one our favorite days of remembrance, but it is an important day,” said Kristin Burt-Cooper, Burt’s widow. “In every decision I make and everything I do, he is always there with me and it will always be that way.”
Burt’s wife was pregnant when her husband was murdered.
Their son Cameron was born on Sept. 22, 1996.
“I have the best memory of him,” Burt-Cooper said. “I have his son.”
She went on to say that her husband would have been proud of their son Cameron and his passion for music.
CHP Sgt. Aaron Knarr, who went through the CHP Training Academy with Burt, shared stories about his friend and said he remembers Burt as always smiling.
Knarr also referenced to the killing of five officers in Dallas last week and reminded the attendees of the risks police officers take every day.
“I hope everyone can realize that it is a hard job that we have,” Knarr said.
The sergeant went on to say that despite the dangers, police never flinch or waver from their mission to protect the public.
Doug Kennedy, a retired FPD detective, who was the lead investigator on the case, said he became close with the family throughout the ordeal.
“When you do something like that, you have a lot of contact so you get close,” Kennedy said. “There are times it seems like 20 years and there are times it seems like not too long ago.”
On Nov. 18, 1996, a bronze plaque with an image of Burt was affixed to the wall on the rear of the gas station at the scene of the murder.
The plaque reads:
“On this spot on July 13, 1996, California Highway Patrol Officer Don J. Burt, I.D. 13892, gave his life in service to the public.”