More than 45 years have passed since Waldron Karp, 31, became the first and only Tustin police officer to be killed in the line of duty.
Today’s Tustin PD makes sure Karp’s sacrifice and legacy will never be forgotten.
With current and retired Tustin PD employees, city staff, and community members on hand, the sixth- annual Wally Karp remembrance ceremony was held May 9 in front of the fallen officer memorial with Karp’s name on it.
“His courage, fidelity, and heroic final actions will never be forgotten,” Mayor Al Murray told the gathering of about 150. “As a member of the Tustin community, I am extremely appreciative and grateful for Officer Karp’s sacrifice and for many others who have paid the ultimate price for this noble profession.”
Karp is one of 53 names on the OC Peace Officers’ Memorial at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Regional Training Academy in Tustin.
“I pray that we will never add another name to that memorial,” Murray said.
The ceremony has taken place every year since it was started by Tustin Chief Charlie Celano in 2013.
Orange County Sheriff’s Department Undersheriff Don Barnes attended the event, as did officers from outside agencies. Karp’s daughter, Sher, and grandson, Jacob, attend the event each year.
“It’s an emotional week,” Karp’s daughter said. “It brings it all back, but I’m grateful that I’m not the only one who remembers, especially with my son, who never met him. This kind of helps all of that. It kind of helps the stories that I tell.”
Karp, who was born in Watertown, N.Y., enlisted in the military and went on to serve in Vietnam. He was awarded an air medal by the United States Air Force before being honorably discharged in 1967. Karp started as a reserve officer with Tustin PD in 1970 and became a full-time officer the same year.
At 2:15 a.m. on Dec. 6, 1972 – his daughter’s 10th birthday – a woman called Tustin PD to report a man with a rifle banging on her door. While talking to the caller, the dispatcher heard gunshots in the background.
Karp was one of two Tustin officers patrolling the city of 20,000 residents when the call came in.
While the incident occurred outside the city’s border, both Tustin officers responded to assist Orange County Sheriff’s deputies because of the seriousness of the call.
As they searched for the suspect, Karp warned fellow officers that they could be in the midst of an ambush, which gave the other officer and deputies time to find cover.
Karp then saw the suspect crawl under a parked car and aim his rifle in the direction of the officers.
With the curb as his only cover, Karp dropped to prone position on the ground.
Armed with a hunting rifle loaded with armor-piercing shells, the suspect opened fire from under the parked car.
A bullet tore through Karp’s arm and into his torso.
OCSD Deputy Tim Stewart was shot in the face.
Although severely injured, Karp fired back and managed to shoot the gunman, which stopped the man from continuing to shoot.
Backup arrived and the suspect was arrested.
Stewart rendered medical aid until an ambulance arrived to rush Karp to the hospital for surgery.
For weeks, officers and family members held a vigil outside the hospital. Karp was expected to recover, but instead his condition worsened. He died at 1:45 a.m. Jan. 7, 1973 and was buried with full military honors in Evansville, NY.
In the late 1990s, a group of Tustin PD employees raised more than $100,000 to build the fallen officer’s memorial. The bronze statue of a kneeling officer mourning the loss of his partner honors Karp and serves as a reminder of the realities officers face on the job.
The kneeling officer is holding an American flag and also is wearing a wedding ring to symbolize the families behind the officers, who are also affected in the wake of tragedies.
The bronze statue, which was unveiled in 2000, has patches and medals from generations of Tustin PD uniforms.
“As an agency we will continue to gather each year to honor our fallen heroes,” Celano said. “And you can rest assured that the men and women of the Tustin Police Department stand ready to live up to the standard that has been set by those who have gone before us.”
Each year, the Tustin Police Officers’ Association awards a scholarship to a local high school student in Karp’s name. This year’s $1,000 scholarship was awarded to Tustin High School senior Noheli Mata.