MACKAY: What made this funeral resonate with strangers?
COMMENTARY: A hero's funeral is a heart-wrenching goodbye and a release of tension and fear
For some of us who watched San Bernardino County Sheriff's Detective Jeremiah MacKay's funeral on television and didn't know him personally, the moment that tore at our hearts was the mass bagpipe tribute.
The 130 or so pipers on the San Manuel Amphitheater stage played as one, their mournful drone punctuated by heavy drum beats and concluding with an eerie final blast of sound.
Others were brought to tears by the video tribute – hundreds of photos of a smiling, laughing man who clearly loved his life, his family and his work.
The photos were poignant enough, but then, when the tribute ended, the camera focused on MacKay's father in the audience, utterly unstrung and doubled over in grief.
Just minutes earlier, Alan MacKay had spoken calmly and eloquently about his son. He told stories about his young "adrenalin junkie" climbing the 11,500-foot Mount San Gorgonio at age 4, learning to ski at age 6 and later deciding against following in his father's footsteps as a firefighter because that career was "kind of boring."
Some were torn by the sight of San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon on his knees in front of Lynette MacKay, comforting her as he presented the flag that had been on her husband's casket. Or by the End of Watch announcement in which MacKay's call sign – 14D2 – was announced three times, with pauses between as if waiting for him to respond. That one still gets me, right in the throat.
What was it about that service that resonated so strongly, even among those of us who never knew him?
Of course there's the sorrow that a community experiences whenever it loses a protector. That was evident at the funeral of Michael Crain, 34, the Riverside police officer gunned down by an evil force that he most likely never saw coming.
The man most of us would have seen as just a guy in a uniform driving a black and white patrol car became someone we might have wished we had known after we heard his widow, friends and brother speak about their lives together. About how he loved his babies, his hash browns, his wife and buddies.
I think MacKay's funeral reverberated even more strongly among strangers because it was the final episode in the good vs. evil drama that has been playing out in the Inland region since Feb. 7.
That was the night Crain and his partner were ambushed by a former Los Angeles Police Department officer, just a few minutes after the rogue officer had shot at police in Corona and a few days after he had killed a young couple in Irvine. The woman was the daughter of an LAPD officer.
Dorner, who was fired by the department, had launched a violent vendetta. While he wrote in a manifesto about targeting specific LAPD officers who had wronged him, he ended up killing and wounding officers who had nothing to do with his rage. He killed our officers.
The intense news coverage of the Dorner manhunt set us all on edge. It gave me nightmares, which I seldom have.
Inland residents worried for days about where he might pop up next, and whether they could be safe going about their daily lives. Fear was striking close to home.
Officer Crain and his partner were shot while on patrol at the historic intersection of Magnolia and Arlington avenues, where the parent navel orange tree grows. The tree is the foundation of Southern California's citrus heritage.
Dorner's pickup truck was found burning at Big Bear Lake, a San Bernardino Mountain resort where many Inland residents go to ski, fish and enjoy a fresh-air refuge from the craziness of daily life in the flatlands.
The final shootout – the one in which the 35-year-old MacKay was killed – took place in a peaceful mountain village not widely known, but cherished by fishers who quest for trout in the upper reaches of the Santa Ana River.
MacKay's friends described him as a hard charger. He volunteered almost every day to help with the manhunt in the mountains where he had grown up. He was determined to "get that guy" and stop the terror that was being inflicted on the region, as Sheriff McMahon said during the funeral.
All of that probably contributed to MacKay being quick to arrive at the Seven Oaks cabin where Dorner had holed up. He and his partner were cut down in the first barrage of gunfire. His partner is recovering from his injuries.
As a sheriff's deputy, MacKay saw himself as a protector, the sheepdog watching over his flock, keeping the wolf at bay, his friends said. The concept, which MacKay adopted, is presented in an article by retired Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, titled "On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs."
Productive people living good lives are sheep, Grossman wrote. Violent people with no empathy for others are wolves.
"But what if you have a capacity for violence and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero's path," Grossman wrote.
MacKay was that person, his friend Deputy Roger Loftis told the funeral audience.
MacKay gave his life being a warrior. He might not have been without fear, but he had courage. The sheriff drove that point home with a quote from the actor John Wayne: "Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway."
"Jeremiah MacKay saddled up," McMahon said.
The detective's actions led to the end of the tension and fear that afflicted our region. MacKay sacrificed everything – all of his future days with his wife, the chance to see their daughter and 4-month-old son grow up, his time with his buddies and at work – so that evil wouldn't win.
Maybe that is why his funeral was so hard to watch.