At age 27, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Hagop "Jake" Kuredjian saved the life of a Malibu woman who had fallen on a steep hillside and was dangling from a tree branch near the edge of a cliff.
Kuredjian inched down the incline and coaxed the woman into dropping five feet, where he caught her and pulled her to safety.
In the 13 years since the rescue, Kuredjian--who was killed Friday in the Stevenson Ranch shootout--continued to make a difference in the lives of the people he met while on the force, co-workers said.
"[He] loved the people he worked with, loved the people he worked for," department chaplain Tony Miano said. "He could always put a smile on your face and there aren't always a lot of smiles in this job."
A native of Syria, Kuredjian, 40, lived in Michigan before becoming a U.S. citizen at age 21. He worked briefly as an insurance salesman and soccer referee before joining the Sheriff's Department in 1984, serving at County Jail and then Malibu's Lost Hills Station. More recently, Kuredjian, who spoke fluent Armenian, had moved to the department's Santa Clarita Station.
The 17-year department veteran spent many weekends tinkering with his Harley-Davidson motorcycles at his home in the Happy Valley neighborhood of Newhall, just a few miles from the street where he was killed Friday.
Friends said he was determined to combine his two loves: motorcycle riding and police work. And he had recently achieved his longtime dream of becoming a motorcycle cop. "He was so proud to be a motorcycle officer," said Capt. Don Rodriguez, who heads the Santa Clarita Station.
At news of his death, distraught friends and neighbors gathered at the deputy's Newhall home. Standing guard was Deputy Ron Minassian, who said Kuredjian will be deeply missed.
"He was like a big brother," Minassian said. "He always helped everybody out. Great personality. Kind heart. If you would ask him to do something for you he would do it. Everybody loved him."
After hearing the news of the tragedy, Sheriff Lee Baca and other department officials rushed to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia, where Kuredjian was taken after the morning shooting.
Appearing red-eyed and shaken, Baca held a hastily called news conference to announce the death of the deputy, who had won the sheriff's Gold Meritorious Conduct medal for saving the Malibu woman's life on July 4, 1988.
Undersheriff Bill Stonich told reporters the department had "lost one of its finest."
Baca said efforts were underway to bring Kuredjian's mother to California from her home in Michigan.
In addition to boating and motorcycle riding, Kuredjian was also fond of good cigars. Hassan Ballat, owner of the Cig Shop in Newhall, said Kuredjian was a frequent customer. "He was the best guy I ever met in my life," Ballat said.