With prayers, music and words, Lake Elsinore-area residents gathered Tuesday evening, Jan. 17, to honor a deputy who gave his life to protect the community.
The vigil, which started about 6 p.m., took place outside the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department’s station in Lake Elsinore — where Deputy Darnell Calhoun was assigned and where many well wishers already have left flowers, cards and signs since his Friday, Jan. 13, death.
In addition to sheriff’s employees, guests included families with strollers and babies in their arms. A Lake Elsinore fire truck raised an American flag hooked to a ladder, a few feet from another fire truck with a second flag.
David Warnick, 61, and Griselda Warnick, 53, arrived early and came to support the Calhoun family.
David Warnick said he knew Calhoun since he was 5 years old and called him “well behaved” and “mature” as a child.
“It breaks your heart,” David Warnick said. “It definitely hits.”
Calhoun, 30, was shot to death near Lake Elsinore on Friday. He was the department’s second officer to die in the line of duty in 16 days, a tragedy that rocked a department that had gone nearly two decades without the on-duty killing of a deputy.
The suspected killer, Jesse Navarro, 42, remains hospitalized after a gun battle with the second deputy who arrived at a home in the Lakeland Village area.
Earlier Tuesday, law enforcement staged a procession to escort Calhoun’s casket from the Riverside County coroner’s office in Perris to a Murrieta mortuary.
In a statement issued Monday, Jan. 16, by the Sheriff’s Department, the Calhoun family thanked the community for its “outpouring of love and support.”
“While we are heartbroken, we also celebrate the gift of Darnell – the husband, father, son, brother, and deputy. His life, though cut short, is a blessing. Our faith in Jesus will carry us through this and we know we will be reunited with Darnell once again.”
Family members, some of whom attended the vigil, also called Calhoun’s life and dedication to his family and community “an inspiration.”
“He was genuine, kind, loyal, and had the heart of a servant,” the family wrote. “We take great comfort in knowing that Darnell led a life well lived.”
Calhoun’s parents run a Murrieta restaurant, Calhoun Family Texas Barbeque, where mourners have been leaving flowers and messages for family and friends of Calhoun.
Also arriving early to Tuesday’s vigil was Dan Gonse, a 62-year-old Wildomar resident, who stood by himself.
“I’m here to pay respects to Officer Calhoun,” he said.
Gonse had meet him once while eating at the family’s restaurant, but said he didn’t know him personally.
“I find it sad that people don’t respect the police, who put their life on the line for others,” Gonse said of hearing the news Friday that another local officer had been shot to death.
“I teared up a bit when I got here,” he said. “It’s very emotional.”
Sheriff’s Chaplin Jim Savage opened the vigil by saying “Darnell Calhoun was a good man.”
He then lead a prayer, which was followed by inspirational music, as spectators clad in jackets listened on the chilly night.
Lake Elsinore Mayor Natasha Johnson said Calhoun’s “sacrifice reminds us of the ultimate price our law enforcements make.”
“We have lost a true friend and a colleague,” she said.
Riverside County Supervisor Karen Spiegel refused to say the name of the man authorities say killed Calhoun.
“He died a hero,” she said of Calhoun.
“We didn’t just lose a deputy,” Spiegel said. “We lost a friend.”
In his remarks, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco recalled that Calhoun was “excited and honored to join the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.”
Bianco also mentioned the “evil” that led to Calhoun’s slaying and Tuesday night’s vigil.
“We need to make it stop,” he said.
As another musical performance began, attendees began to light candles. Some people swayed to the music, holding candles by their chests.
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The vigil concluded with Valerie Geason performing “Amazing Grace” and asking the crowd to sing the chorus with her.
United, the spectators sang along. When the song ended, some hugged each other. Others embraced their children tighter.
Before joining the Riverside County department in 2022, Calhoun worked for the San Diego Police Department.
The shooting came a week after the funeral of Deputy Isaiah Cordero, 32, who was shot to death during a traffic stop in Jurupa Valley. The gunman, William Shae McKay, was killed at the end of a car chase in Norco.
A second community vigil for Calhoun, who grew up in Murrieta, is set for Wednesday, Jan. 18, at 5:30 p.m. at Town Square Park Amphitheater, 11 Town Square, in Murrieta.