Hundreds gathered Thursday in an Oceanside church and on the streets of the city to mourn and honor the late Oceanside Police Officer Dan Bessant, who was gunned down last week near Camp Pendleton's back gate.
Police officers, firefighters and residents gathered on the sides of Oceanside streets in the morning as the funeral procession of Bessant passed through the city.
Sirens from the procession wailed as small groups of residents gathered along the procession route, some holding signs in support of the family of the 25-year-old officer, who left behind a wife and two-month old son.
During the service, Oceanside Police Chief Frank McCoy said the officer would be missed.
"His life was taken with a selfish and senseless act of violence," McCoy said. "But he died doing what he loved -- trying to make his community a better place."
A number of friends of Bessant's recounted memories of him during the service, and many laughed through their tears as they remembered the fun-loving young father. The 90-minute service also included a photo tribute and words from a church pastor. Bessant's mother and father, Jeanne and Steve Bessant, locked arms throughout most of the service and smiled as they remembered their son.
Afterward, Oceanside police put on a 21-gun salute in honor of Bessant.
Widow Katelyn Bessant, who walked into the service with their young son Wyatt on her shoulder, was consoled throughout the service by her parents. During the firing salute, Bessant sat with her head down, unable to control her tears.
Before the service, police shut down roads along the 10-mile funeral procession route, which ran from department headquarters on Mission Avenue, south on El Camino Real, east onto Highway 78 and along College Boulevard to Mystra Way.
Firefighters in stiff navy blue uniforms and white gloves used their engines to block on ramps to the freeway as the procession went past, and many residents huddled in small groups, hands folded, heads down as the procession passed. Many of the older spectators held hats over their hearts.
Bessant, the married father of a 2-month-old son, was gunned down Dec. 20 while assisting another officer in a traffic stop near the back gate. Meki Gaono, a 17-year-old gang member, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to firing at the officer with a rifle from about a half-block away.
Officers from all over Southern California came to Oceanside for the funeral. The Carlsbad Police Department and the Sheriff's Department were taking Oceanside police calls Thursday so the department could attend the ceremony.
At New Venture Church, about 200 friends and family members flowed into the church around 7:30 a.m. for the 10 a.m. service. By 9:45, the church was a sea of blue uniforms. City officials, including council members and other administrators, also filed into the service.
Greeting mourners was a photo montage of the fallen officer, including pictures of Bessant as a child, at his graduation, at his wedding, and holding his now-two-month-old son when the boy was born. A photo of him at the beach in Oceanside and a picture of his father holding Bessant as a baby were also on display.
A box of tissues was placed at the end of each pew, and large screens near the altar projected pictures of Bessant.
Security was tight at the funeral. Officers, apparently from the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, were on the roof of the church building, and police dogs were sent through the church to check for anything suspicious before guests arrived.
One of the officers involved in the procession stopped briefly in the Plaza Camino Real parking lot in Carlsbad to talk about why he came from Los Angeles to honor Bessant.
When asked why the LAPD sent him, the 25-year police veteran who identified himself as Sgt. Horan, responded quietly.
"They didn't send me. I just came," he said.
"I don't think I could talk about it without starting to cry."