There are few places where the pain and sadness that followed the Sept. 16 murder of Deputy Sheriff Ryan Clinkunbroomer were felt harder than at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church in Santa Clarita.
It was here that Clinkunbroomer received his sacraments, like first Communion and confirmation, and began a life dedicated to serving others.
“It really strikes home here and it hurts,” Father Vaughn Winters, pastor at St. Kateri, told Angelus. “We have so many law enforcement and firefighters in the parish, this has affected so many of them. A lot of people know Ryan and remember him. The news rippled through our community, it’s so shocking and senseless.”
Those feelings were unearthed again during Clinkunbroomer’s funeral Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Oct. 5. Attended by thousands of fellow deputies, law enforcement, family and friends, the day offered plenty of heavy hearts, sadness, laughter and profoundness.
“We’re not saying goodbye, Ryan, but we’re saying thank you,” said Clinkunbroomer’s father, Mike, standing next to his wife, Kim. “Thank you for your infectious, never-ending smile and laughter. Thank you for your love of life.”
Clinkunbroomer’s name made national headlines after he was shot and killed in his patrol car just steps from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s headquarters in Palmdale the evening of Sept. 16. A few days later, 29-year-old Kevin Salazar of Palmdale was arrested and charged in the murder.
The sense of anguish has only deepened after reports emerged that just a few days before his death, Clinkunbroomer had become engaged to Brittany Lindsey — nearly two years to the day after their first date — and was excited about the life they would make together.
“Like every little girl, I dreamed of meeting the perfect guy, getting married, and starting a family,” Lindsey said during the funeral. “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to check all those boxes off. But I’m so grateful I was able to meet the perfect guy.
“I’m not supposed to be up here talking to you all. I should be up here with Ryan holding hands as we prepare to say our vows.”
In her remarks, Lindsey said she and Ryan were making wedding plans up until a few hours prior to his death.
“Just hours before Ryan left me, we were in the kitchen of our home talking about how many people we were going to invite to our wedding,” Lindsey said. “Thirty minutes before he left us, I was texting him about touring wedding venues. I never got a text back.
“How do I go from planning a wedding to planning a funeral on the same day?”
Just 30 years old, Clinkunbroomer has been described by colleagues as a “deputy’s deputy.” He became a training officer at a young age, a valued position requiring rigorous testing and a high level of expertise.
His devotion to his profession and those it served grew from the young man who attended St. Kateri, who not only learned lessons about service and family but lived them. He was a third generation deputy, following in the footsteps of his father, Mike, and his father’s father.
When the family released its first statement about Clinkunbroomer’s murder — read by Sheriff Robert Luna — they spoke not only of their son’s sacrifice but referred to his colleagues in terms of family.
“Our son Ryan was a dedicated, hardworking deputy sheriff who enjoyed working here at the Palmdale station. He was proud to work alongside his partners that he considered brothers and sisters, as he sacrificed daily to better the community that he served. Ryan made the ultimate sacrifice in doing so.”
That someone who seemed to embody that which is the best in us could be taken so horribly quickly fueled the considerable grief around his passing, certainly at St. Kateri’s.
Established 25 years ago, Winters said St. Kateri was and remains a “young, vibrant community.” Clinkunbroomer’s grandparents, Al and Mary Lou Etzel, were founding members of the faith community. They spoke with Winters just days after their grandson’s murder. Winters described their faith as “very strong. They’re reaching out in faith for something that really doesn’t have any explanation, other than human sin. They’re really leaning on the Lord, really exhibiting their faith.”
During his homily at Clinkunbroomer’s funeral Mass, Winters asked those in attendance to do the same — lean on the Lord in these difficult times.
“We have questions, we have doubts, we want to try to understand why,” Winters said. “Ryan’s life, the example that he gives us, calls us to leave here with hope, in our grief, our anger, our confusion, in time — and yes, we do need to give ourselves time — can allow these difficult emotions to melt away into serene and peaceful trust in God.”
In Santa Clarita that included the likes of Alison Hunsaker, who taught at West Ranch High School where Clinkunbroomer ran track and cross country and participated in several extracurricular activities. Hunsaker, who was Clinkunbroomer’s English teacher, told NBC4 News that she “so wants his mom to know about the people he touched. His life is still resonating with them. Just about the kindness, the friendship, and the comradery that he shared with so many people. When we talk about the kind of law enforcement officers we want in our country, Ryan was that guy.”
Winters acknowledged a tragedy like this one can cause some to not only question God but, “push away in anger.” He knows that he’ll be talking to many parishioners struggling with Clinkunbroomer’s passing, struggling to make sense out of the senseless.
“For someone suffering through this, I’ll want them to know it’s OK to be angry, in fact, it’s understandable,” Winters said. “But it’s important not to nurture it, not allow it to take us over. Pushing God away is not going to help. This is why we have faith, for moments like this.”
A fund to assist the family of Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer was set up by the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. To learn more, visit alads.org/donate.