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'His last breaths on this Earth were in the arms of heroes': Community remembers Arvada Officer Vakoff

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Posted at 8:16 AM, Sep 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-16 20:30:52-04

ARVADA, Colo. — Arvada Officer Dillon Vakoff was remembered Friday as an intensely dedicated officer who embraced his career and spread positivity to those around him, both on duty and off.

Friday morning began with a procession for Vakoff, who was killed early Sunday morning in the line of duty. Many law enforcement agencies participated and people lined the streets to honor him.

Multiple departments pay respects during procession for Officer Vakoff

Vakoff lived in Arvada and graduated from Ralston Valley High School in 2012. He was a staff sergeant in the United States Air Force where he served with the 96th Bomb Squadron for six years before joining the Arvada Police Department in 2019.

He was training to be a SWAT officer.

Public lines streets to honor Arvada Officer Dillon Vakoff

Inside Flatirons Community Church, family, loved ones, law enforcement, and more gathered to honor the 27-year-old's life.

Pastor Ben Chavez started the service.

“What’s incredible about men and women in our first responders — and so many are represented in this room— and what is so different than those of us like myself is that I would hope as a father, that I would stand and protect my children, who are near and dear to me, and those that I love. But Dillon did that for complete strangers," he said.

In a world so often torn apart, he brought hope to everybody around him, Chavez said.

“After visiting with his family this week, I firmly believe that Dillon is not only an example of a lion and protector, but he is also a light and compassion and he gives hope to us all," he said.

You can watch the full funeral service live in the Denver7 player below.

Funeral service for Arvada Officer memorial service for Arvada Officer Dillon Vakoff

Chavez also read a letter, written by Vakoff's mother.

“You said we all have choices. Your choice was to always see the good, to have a different perspective. You could always see the diamond in the rough," she wrote, in part. “My wish is that every person in this room leaves with a piece of Staff Sgt. Officer Dillon Vakoff with them and chooses to do good. And today I charge you to ask yourself, what would Dillon do?"

During the service, his girlfriend Megan Esslinger, also a fellow Arvada officer, described how police officers take an oath and know the risks of police work. She said part of that is knowing they could die, or a friend could die.

“But no one ever tells you how it will be after everything settles, after you have to bury your best friend and the person you envisioned your life with. How that will feel without them or what you go through," Esslinger said. "No one tells you how that phone call hits you like a train and all you can do is pray.”

He wanted to become a police officer after he lost his brother, she said. He told her he saw what his parents went through, and he wanted to help other families in similar situations before it was too late.

After initially meeting in November 2020 in training, she explained her growing admiration for his leadership, love for workouts, relentless positivity, and "warrior mentality."

“There are hundreds of stories of us, Dillon and his team, and Dillon’s life overall," she said. "No words will ever be enough to truly capture what he meant to everyone. There isn’t enough time in the world to truly express everything he meant and what an impact he had on my life and the lives of those around him.”

She also thanked Team 6 (nicknamed Team No Factor) — which Vakoff was a part of — for their efforts to save Vakoff's life, and promised to take care of his family.

Remembering Officer Dillon Vakoff: Funeral held for fallen Arvada officer

Friends and colleagues also spoke during the service, including Arvada Officer Joe Galvez, Major Julian Gluck, Lt. Paul Carroll and family friend Chris Shurtleff.

“Dillon had the ability to lead, but not only that, he was fun to be around. This allowed his squad to have the best experience during the academy," Galvez said, remembering discussing their life, goals, family and career aspirations during their time together with the department.

“Dillon always said things such as, if things went south, he’d be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for his team," he said. "We’d look each other in the eye and only then would he say, ‘You’re going home to your family today.’ And I trusted it and I believed it and I did."

Gluck, who served with Dillon during his time with the U.S. Air Force, noted his genuine joy and impacts abroad and at home. He managed to balance his job and workouts, plus studying for his bachelor's degree and then graduate school, all while living in a deployment environment, he said.

Gluck recalled when a typhoon hit an island near Guam and Vakoff immediately volunteered to help with relief efforts. He was hand-picked to assist the FEMA director for the disaster, and ended up saving five patients and leading an eight-member relief team. He received a Humanitarian Service Medal for his work there, Gluck said. At the end of his service, he also earned the Air Force Commendation Medal.

Carroll, the watch commander for Team 6, said he looked at Vakoff like his own son. He was a goofy, exuberant young man, he said.

In front of the crowd, he addressed Vakoff's parents.

“To his mom and dad, Lisa and Dan, he loved you. He loved you a lot. And it was obvious by the way he talked about you," he said. "He shared his life with all of us. He was proud of his family, proud of his grandmother. Thank you for sharing him with us. Our personal and professional lives are enriched today because of the man you raised."

Carroll also spoke directly to Team 6.

“Those of you, along with me, who were there in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2022, he loved and respected all of you. Console yourself that Dillon spent his last moments in the company of you. He understood and he appreciated your desperate efforts to save him and keep him with us, but his orders from our creator were final. He knows that his last breaths on this Earth were in the arms of heroes."

Family friend Shurtleff, who lived near Vakoff's family, had watched Vakoff grow up from a grade-school student to a "great, positive, and selfless person who was always happy," he said.

Shurtleff called him a "great alarm clock," because as a child, Vakoff would wait on their doorstep, ball in hand, waiting for a streetlight to shut off to mark an acceptable time to knock on the door and play with the Shurtleff sons.

“One of my favorite memories of Dillon was when he was about 11. He built a bike from the ground up — painted it and put it all together — and he gave it to my son for his birthday," he said. "My son’s bike was stolen shortly before that."

It was just another example of how selfless and giving he was, even as a child, Shurtleff said.

Chief Link Strate with the Arvada Police Department said the job attracts those who believe they can truly make a difference and make their communities a better place to live. And Vakoff was the epitome of what you want in a police officer, he said.

“Simply put, if someone you loved was in trouble, it’s Dillon that you would want to respond," Strate said, adding that his parents had raised him to become a "kind, gentle-hearted warrior."

“If you listed all the qualities you would want in today’s police officer, Dillon had every one of them," he continued. "And as a police officer, he had so much more to do and so much more he was going to accomplish."

While his death on Sunday may seem like a wrong-time-wrong-place situation, Strate said he believes Vakoff would say he was exactly where he was supposed to be — standing in between a gunman and a group of men, women and children.

He was awarded the Medal of Valor, which represents the highest honor anybody can receive from the department.

“Dillon, your sacrifice and your life’s example of compassion, bravery, devotion, will never be forgotten," Strate said. "We’re proud of you and we promise to honor and carry forward your legacy and to lead our lives as an example for others to follow, as you did."

Watch: Final call and end of watch for Arvada Officer Dillon Vakoff

The loss of Vakoff is the second in just over a year in the Arvada Police Department. In June of 2021, Officer Gordon Beesley, a 19-year veteran with the department was killed along with two others during a shooting in Olde Town Arvada.

A 31-year-old suspect has been arrested in connection with Vakoff's death and faces multiple charges.

Friday's funeral service was organized by the Colorado Fallen Hero Foundation. Click here to donate to the Colorado Fallen Hero Foundation in Vakoff's name.