Procession, funeral held for slain Colorado police officer

LAFAYETTE, Colo. (AP) — Hundreds of people, including police officers from throughout Colorado, paid tribute Friday during a procession and funeral service for a suburban Denver police officer who was fatally shot while trying to break up a family disturbance.

Their emergency lights flashing, row after row of police motorcycle officers led the procession that included a hearse bearing Dillon Vakoff’s casket to Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette. Residents along the route saluted Vakoff, a police officer from the city of Arvada, who was killed Sunday.

Hundreds of officers from agencies around the state attended, The Denver Gazette reported. Inside the church were flowers draped with Vakoff’s personal mottos: “So others may live” and “Go Get Some.”

Megan Esslinger, Vakoff’s partner and a fellow police officer, told mourners that Vakoff loved family and dancing.

“He would always want to dance with me even when there was no music,” Esslinger said, “at the zoo, in the street and at a baseball game.”

”No one tells you how that phone call hits you like a train,” Esslinger said about learning at 2:40 in the morning that Vakoff had been killed.

Vakoff, 27, died at a hospital Sunday after being shot while he and another officer responded to a disturbance that spilled into a street outside a housing complex. He was the second Arvada police officer slain in the line of duty in two years.

Sonny Thomas Almanza, 31, of Arvada, was arrested on suspicion of first degree murder and other charges in Vakoff’s death. His first Jefferson County court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday.

Vakoff and his fellow officer had been dispatched to check on the well-being of two minor children when they encountered the disturbance, police said. A suspect opened fire, wounding a woman, at which point the officers returned fire, according to Police Chief Link Strate. The suspect then fired at Vakoff, Strate said.

The suspect was wounded by the officers and taken to a hospital. The woman allegedly wounded by the suspect also was hospitalized and was expected to recover, police said.

Vakoff was the second officer killed in the line of duty in as many years in Arvada, a city 7 miles (11 kilometers) northwest of downtown Denver. In 2021, Officer Gordon Beesley, 40, was shot and killed in an ambush by a gunman wielding an AR-style rifle in downtown Arvada.

Vakoff was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, where he served for six years, before joining the Arvada Police Department in 2019. He was training to be a SWAT officer, police said.

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