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Thousands Attend Funeral for Deputy

September 05, 2001|KRISTINA SAUERWEIN and ANNETTE KONDO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

As the organ played "Ave Maria" and police officers wept, thousands of mourners filled a Glendale church and the streets outside to bid farewell to Hagop "Jake" Kuredjian, the Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy killed in a Santa Clarita Valley shootout.

"The Lord has received his servant," Bishop Moushegh Mardirossian said during the funeral service at St. Mary's Armenian Apostolic Church. "He claims those who are his own."

The gathering, including hundreds of uniformed officers and Gov. Gray Davis, heard Kuredjian remembered as a son, a brother, a boyfriend, a nephew, a cousin, a friend, a colleague and, by all accounts, a hero.

"I wish I could stand before you today and tell you I am celebrating my brother's life," Raffi Kuredjian said, huddled next to his other brother, Garo, a Ventura County deputy. "I will do that for the rest of my life. I'm here to mourn the loss of my hero, my fallen hero."

A Newhall resident, Kuredjian died a few miles from his home Friday when he responded to a call for help after James Allen Beck had opened fire on federal officers in the affluent Stevenson Ranch neighborhood. Sheriff's officials say Beck, a former police officer with a long criminal record, shot the deputy in the head.

Sheriff's homicide detectives Tuesday continued to investigate the shootout, which ended in an inferno that destroyed Beck's house. Authorities say Beck died in the fire. County coroner's officials said they completed an autopsy Tuesday on the charred body found in the rubble, but examiners still need to match medical records to confirm the remains are Beck's.

Beck started firing after U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents, federal marshals and sheriff's deputies tried to serve him with a search warrant.

The county Board of Supervisors, which interrupted its meeting to attend the funeral, asked the Sheriff's Department on Tuesday for a briefing on the protocols involved when deputies help federal agencies serve warrants and deal with barricaded suspects.

The intention of the report, Supervisor Mike Antonovich said, "is to ensure that the federal agencies are not placing our deputies in a dangerous environment."

Officers paying their respects at Tuesday's service represented local, state and federal agencies, and came from as far away as Fresno, Las Vegas and San Diego. Streets were closed to accommodate the crowd.

In the pews of St. Mary's, mourners prayed in English and Armenian. As incense wafted across the altar and sunlight shimmered through the purple, green and gold stained-glass windows, family and friends held hands and wiped away tears.

The 11 a.m. service began as a bright sun lifted a cap of gray fog. Outside the brick church on Central Avenue, where the ceremony could be heard over loudspeakers, officers and civilians stood four deep on the sidewalk, their heads bowed.

The only family member to give a eulogy, Raffi Kuredjian, called his brother an "uncommonly brave, uncommonly courteous" man who loved Harley-Davidson motorcycles and fulfilled his dream of becoming a motorcycle officer. And he always sported a smile.

He joked that when his brother had his teeth whitened, the dentist should have paid Kuredjian for the privilege. "It's the best advertisement [the dentist] ever had," he said, his laughter turning into heaving sobs. "I will not say goodbye to him now. I'll see you again."

Born 40 years ago in Aleppo, Syria, Hagop Kuredjian moved with his family to Michigan after the untimely death of his father. He later moved to California and joined the Sheriff's Department in 1984, serving in the Malibu Lost Hills station. He received a gold medal for saving the life of a Malibu woman who dangled from a tree branch near a cliff's edge.

Gov. Davis said he attended the funeral to represent the 34 million Californians who mourn Kuredjian's death. He hugged the family, kneeling and handing them the flag that had been lowered over the state Capitol in Kuredjian's honor. Another American flag draped the coffin.

"There's little I or anyone can say," Davis said to the weeping family. "I can see the pain in your faces."

County Sheriff Lee Baca praised the Armenian American community for producing "a loving man who could be counted on" to inspire others. The sheriff said Kuredjian's generosity lives on in the 8-year-old Santa Clarita boy who helped raise more than $8,000 to help pay funeral expenses.

"Death is not the final word in the life of Hagop 'Jake' Kuredjian," Baca said, crying. ". . . Do not mistake tears as a sign of weakness. It just happens to be what every family does when they lose a loved one."

Following the service, a procession of patrol cars, firetrucks, sheriff's buses and civilian autos made its way slowly to the burial at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills. So did hundreds of Harley-Davidson riders.

The entire motorcade took more than an hour to arrive at the cemetery, with the first 300 motorcycle officers arriving about 12:40 p.m.

The burial service began with a procession led by a sheriff's color guard on horseback. A dark-brown riderless horse with boots backward in the stirrups followed the hearse. The silence was broken only by the horse's whinny.

On a gentle hill facing Forest Lawn Drive and the Ventura Freeway, the grave site was lined on one side by motorcycle officers standing in formation, and on the other by family and friends. The rest of the mourners covered the hillside.

The burial prayers were recited and sung in English and Armenian.

*

Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein, Caitlin Liu and Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this story.

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