“See you in the morning.”
The best friends would say that to each other at the end of each shift at the Brea PD.
They had adjoining lockers and would walk out to their cars together and part with those words before heading home.
Brea PD Officer Shawn Neel, his voice breaking, recounted to hundreds of mourners Tuesday how he never would have imagined that he would say those words for the last time to Officer Daniel Evan McKinley at the end of their shift Aug. 26.
Neel and McKinley worked closely together for 17 years.
McKinley, 46, didn’t show up for work Aug. 27. Colleagues made a welfare check at his home in Whittier only to learn about his unexpected and tragic passing.
He died in his sleep, Brea Chief of Police Jack Conklin said.
On Sept. 8, hundreds of McKinley’s brothers and sisters in law enforcement, along with family and friends, said goodbye to the well-loved McKinley at a memorial service at First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton.
“Never again will I be able to say, ‘I’ll see you in the morning,’” said Neel from the altar, which was dominated by a large wooden cross and backlit in dark blue. “But I will say, ‘I’ll see you on the other side.’ Danny we love you, we’ll miss you, and I hope you know what you meant to all of us.”
Humor. Humility. Humanity.
McKinley, affectionately nicknamed “Mitts” for his big hands but known even more for his bigger heart, possessed these three qualities in spades, colleagues said.
“When all is said and done, Dan McKinley was just a simple man,” Conklin said at the memorial service. “He was just simply a great officer, a better person, and we are all simply better off for having known him.”
Conklin recalled the time he served, for about a month, as McKinley’s field training officer.
The rookie cop made a rookie mistake during a traffic stop: leaving behind a bag of marijuana on the suspect’s car. McKinley had wedged the bag of weed under a windshield wiper to free up his hands to write the citation.
Then off the driver went.
Most cops in training would have reacted differently than McKinley did, Conklin said.
“He just called himself a dummy, threw his head back and laughed,” said the chief, who noted that the two then located the suspect to recover to marijuana. “Danny never took himself too seriously, but took his oath and responsibility as a police officer very seriously.”
Added Conklin: “I like to compare him to a big bear with an equally big heart.”
McKinley followed his father, former Fullerton Police Chief and former Fullerton City Councilmember Patrick McKinley, into a career in law enforcement.
He was a fierce protector not only of his fellow officers, but also of victims of crime and members of his family, which in addition to his father include his mother, Doris, and his older brother and best friend, Peter, five years his senior.
Peter McKinley spoke passionately about his love for his kid brother and about the law enforcement community that came together to comfort the McKinley family during these dark and difficult days.
“We don’t have the words to properly say it, but thank you for what you do,” Peter McKinley said to the uniformed officers at EvFree Fullerton, as the church is known. Among the hundreds of attendees were chiefs of police from several agencies, including Fullerton’s Dan Hughes, Anaheim Chief Raul Quezada and La Habra Chief Jerry Price.
The Fullerton PD gave its neighboring city an assist by patrolling the city most of Tuesday so Brea PD officers and employees could spend the day remembering their fallen colleague.
Praising the officers for their support, Peter McKinley said: “I’ve never seen such professionalism, caring and genuine warmth.”
Another close friend, Brea PD Det. Dave Wearp, called McKinley a genuine person with an unforgettable laugh.
“In a world of spoiled reality TV stars, entitled athletes and just the steady decline of traits like honor, loyalty and humility,” Wearp said, “Danny was one of the last bastions of hope that there still are real genuine people out there.”
Born Dec. 29, 1968 in Bellflower, McKinley, who loved camping and fishing, playing poker with his buddies and riding dirt bikes, was not married and did not have children.
Conklin said McKinley always would volunteer to cover holiday shifts for officers who were married or had children.
McKinley was counting down the days to his retirement at age 50 to move to Northern California to live near his brother.
He had a little more than three years to go.
“He dreamed of retiring and just waking up and shooting gophers from his front porch before taking his afternoon nap,” Neel said.
Added the officer: “Use this tragedy to live your life and treat those around you as if it were the last conversation you will ever have.”