Hundreds of people offered their support to the Tacoma Police Department at a pair of vigils Thursday evening in East Tacoma, a day after an officer was fatally shot in the neighborhood while responding to a domestic dispute call.
The first vigil, at 5 p.m. at the Tacoma police substation on East 56th Street, featured many city and regional leaders, including Mayor Marilyn Strickland and Police Chief Don Ramsdell.
“It saddens me that it took a tragedy like this to unite us,” Strickland said.
During her speech, she took the opportunity to tell the assembled group of her appreciation for the Police Department.
Ramsdell thanked the mayor and those in attendance for the show of support.
“I am so grateful and so thankful to work for a city and in a community with dedicated members like you,” Ramsdell said.
Ramsdell, whostarted his career in Tacoma police’s east precinct, took his speech at the vigil as an opportunity to explain what made Officer Jake Gutierrez special, saying he “served his community with great dignity and empathy.”
Tacoma City Councilwoman Victoria Woodards asked the audience to show their support for Ramsdell and the department, something they did vigorously.
The Rev. Roger Hennigan, a Bremerton-based Pentecostal pastor who knew Gutierrez for decades, led the vigil’s attendees in a prayer in his memory.
“He loved people,” Hennigan said. “He just cared so much. He loved his job. It was the first thing he always talked about.”
The vigil featured opening and closing performances from Tacoma singer Vicci Martinez, and a blessing chant performed by Cambodian Buddhist monks brought to the event by Safe Streets’ Darren Pen, a community safety advocate and longtime collaborator with Tacoma police.
At the 8 p.m. vigil, hosted at Sheridan Elementary School by Life Center church, many East Tacoma pastors spoke, including Terry Harris of Tacoma Christian Center.
Harris served as pastor for Bruce Randall Johnson II, the man who shot and killed Gutierrez before later being fatally shot himself by a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy early Thursday after an hourslong standoff in which he held two children with him. Harris also knew Johnson’s wife and children in that capacity.
Harris called Johnson “a very different thinker” and said he “truly had challenges.”
But the pastor lamented having spent many hours with Johnson and his family without being able to get through to him.
“It is of the utmost importance that we do not allow, that we cannot allow, the action of a troubled man to divide us,” Harris said.
Among the speakers was City Councilman Marty Campbell, who represents East Tacoma. Campbell talked about the unity within his community and its first-name relationship with its police officers, including Gutierrez.
He also poked fun at the setting of the vigil: a Sheridan Elementary parking lot.
“We don’t need much on the East Side,” Campbell said. “Give us a school parking lot and we will fill it, and we will fill it with love.”