The grieving husband stepped up to the microphone as a relative in the church held his 11-month-old daughter, whose tiny dress was a print of the “Thin Blue Line” flag.
Noelle Ybarra, who will celebrate her first birthday without her mother on Sept. 21 — and every other birthday after that, for the rest of her life — wore a blue-and-white ribbon on her head, her straw-blonde hair just starting to come in.
Friends and loved ones of Adam Ybarra have told him how they can’t fathom the strength and composure he has shown speaking about his wife at her funeral.
On Friday, he did it a second time.
Ybarra first eulogized fallen Abilene PD (Texas) Det. Elise Ybarra at Beltway Park Church in Abilene on Friday, Aug. 11 — five days after the 32-year-old was killed in a traffic accident while driving an unmarked detective car, accompanied by two other detectives, to a Crimes Against Children conference in Dallas.
At the afternoon service Aug. 25, Ybarra eulogized his wife of eight years at St. Norbert Catholic Church in Orange, the parish of Elise’s sister, Nicole Ankenman, a hairdresser.
Elise Ybarra grew up in Anaheim and spent the first 20 years of her life there, acquiring a fierce love for the Angels, Disneyland and Gwen Stefani.
Many in attendance at her O.C. funeral on Friday were friends from her alma mater, Anaheim High School (class of 2002), where the always-overachieving Ybarra — then Elise Ann vander Putten, a blonde beauty with mad athletic skills and an electric smile — was a princess in the Homecoming court.
“She taught me how to love and be a better husband and be a better person,” Adam Ybarra told the congregation, which included officers from the Orange, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Huntington Beach PDs, as well as the California Highway Patrol.
“For me not to come up here and for you not to hear from me would not do her justice,” said Ybarra, who during his eulogy choked up several times as he talked about the love of his life, whom he met in 2005 at Kansas State University.
Although technically Ybarra’s death happened while she was in the line of duty, its seeming randomness — traffic on I-20 near Clyde, Texas, had slowed, and her Impala was slammed from behind by another motorist — seemed particularly cruel for a young mother and detective who was a passionate advocate for children.
After working patrol for two years at the Abilene PD, Ybarra moved to the Special Victims’ Unit as a child abuse investigator last December, when her daughter was 3 months old.
“Here’s someone who had a real fire lit inside her — someone who really wanted to make a difference and be of service to the community, to her family and friends, to her country and to the Lord,” Father Bruce Patterson said in his homily at Ybarra’s funeral Mass at St. Norbert’s.
Ybarra, who growing up attended St. Boniface Catholic Church in Anaheim, died four days short of her 33rd birthday.
Her companions in the car, Detectives Chris Milliorn and Robert Collins, were seriously injured. Det. Collins still is out recovering and will require several months of treatment and rehabilitation before he can return to work, Abilene PD Chief Stan Standridge told Behind the Badge.
Det. Milliorn suffered head injuries and returned to work on Monday, Aug. 28 in a restricted capacity, the chief said.
“It’s always a terrible disaster when you lose someone so suddenly and so senselessly,” Father Patterson continued in his eulogy, as the afternoon sun slanted through the church’s stained-glass windows.
“This seems so random to us, and it can be such a shock to the gut in some ways. Here’s someone who tried to do everything right, and we lost her.”
At the funeral, Nicole Ankenman spoke before Adam Ybarra, recalling when the “real-life baby doll” that was Elise was born when Nicole was 4 (they have a brother, Jason vander Putten).
Ankenman recalled how young Elise always wanted to sleep in her older sister’s bedroom.
“Oh, if I could just have one more of those nights,” Ankenman said.
As a young girl, Elise wanted to be a dolphin trainer when she grew up.
During junior high school, she became a skilled ice skater. Nicole recalled being whisked around to her competitions.
As a freshman at Anaheim High, Elise made the varsity softball team — a natural who barely had played before.
She became a football-crazy cheerleader who showed off her pipes by singing the National Anthem at several basketball games.
“She was good at it all,” Ankenman said.
After attending Cypress College and falling in love with journalism and communications, Elise transferred to Kansas State University on a full scholarship as a member of the rowing team (although she barely had rowed before).
There, she fell in love with Adam, a student athletic trainer at the time. They started dating in the spring of 2007, three weeks before Adam left to be a graduate assistant at the University of Missouri.
At Kansas State University, Elise worked for a radio station and did news and a country morning radio show. Eventually, she became program director.
In 2010, a year after they married, Adam and Elise moved to Marshall, Mo. Elise found a job ad for a telecommunications officer for the Sedalia PD. She applied and, not surprisingly, got the job.
Elise became an officer at the Sedalia PD in 2011.
When Adam had to relocate to Texas after becoming director of sports medicine and head athletic trainer at Abilene Christian University in 2014, Elise went through the full police academy at the Abilene PD even though she could have done an abbreviated one.
She was sworn in as an Abilene officer on Nov. 21, 2014.
A HUGE LOSS
I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand.
The line is from 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, the second reading at Elise’s funeral in Orange.
In Texas, her family decided to have her remains cremated.
There was no visitation, no traditional police funeral procession, and no graveside service, although the Abilene PD’s Traffic Division escorted Elise’s family to the morning service at Beltway Park Church.
A three-volley salute was held outside the public service near its conclusion.
“She was selfless, full of grace and a remarkable woman, spouse, mother, daughter, sister and detective,” said Chief Standridge, who awarded Elise the Police Cross. During the service, the Abilene PD also noted that Elise was a member of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America, and recognized her 15-year-old little sister.
At Elise’s funeral in Orange, an honor guard consisting of Anaheim and Orange PD officers stood stoically throughout the Mass.
Outside the church, a large American flag hanging from Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s Truck 8 silently flapped in the light wind.
In his homily, while standing off to the side of an urn containing Elise’s remains, Father Patterson told the assembled it’s wrong to seek an explanation as to why she was killed.
“We have to sit with it and learn to reconcile ourselves to this, and to move forward together,” he said. “It makes it somewhat easier if we share this grief and support each other and hold each other up during this time, and the times that will follow.
“It’s going to a be a long haul, and it’s going to require perseverance.”
Elise would have done one of her notorious eye rolls at all the attention, her husband said in his eulogy.
Nicole took some comfort in knowing that when she was killed, Elise was wearing a shirt she “borrowed” from her older sister.
And yet, “There are no words to express what I’m feeling,” Nicole told the assembled.
She added: “I was her only sister, but she had so many chosen sisters who I think would all say she was one in a million.”
Nicole said the last screen shot Elise shared on social media was a quote:
I like when I don’t have to be careful what I say. That’s when I know I’m with the right people.
“That’s how she lived her whole life,” Ankenman said. “Just know you were her people.”
After the funeral, Elise’s loved ones and friends attended a reception at the church’s family and youth center. A slide show played on a large screen as those who loved her took turns sharing stories.
Now, stories are all Adam has of his late wife, Badge No. 1058, Abilene PD, End of Watch: Sunday, Aug. 6, 6:15 p.m.
“She loved helping people, but she never wanted to take credit for it,” Adam said in his eulogy.
He will miss his wife’s smile and laughter the most, he said.
“She was the person I prayed for my entire life,” Adam said. “The way that she loved me was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life…
“Most of all, she was the best friend I ever had.”
Adam’s voice broke before he added: “Every time I left her, I couldn’t wait to see her again.”
Elise is survived by husband Adam Ybarra, daughter Noelle Ybarra, sister Nicole Ankenman (Nicholas), brother Jason vander Putten, parents Jeff and Noelia Vance, and Paul vander Putten.
The Abilene Police Officer’s Association has set up an account at First Financial Bank under account # 02110145014 routing #111301122 for anyone to donate to the Ybarra family.