Within all the love and support, all the tributes and eulogies for fallen officers Elizabeth Butler and Butch Baker at their memorial service Thursday at HP Pavilion in San Jose, it was the human story that struck more deeply than any bullet ever will.
The story was told through halting words, through family photo albums, through tears, anger, and laughter, through the turnout by fellow officers from Santa Cruz and throughout California — and even through the flag-shrouded caskets surrounded by an honor guard, a few cherished images, and two Santa Cruz police cars.
Butch Baker’s car sales background … his way of “leaning in” with questions and observations, his practical jokes. The “ultimate go-to guy,” as Chief Deputy Steve Clark described him. Well known, well loved in his 28 years on the force as a friend to his brethren and a voice of encouragement for the new breed.
So many partners in the fight against crime, so many experiences for a guy described as “born to be a cop,” a “natural investigator” involved anytime, anywhere in almost every case. The go-to, get-it-done guy for nearly three decades, a guy who always answered his phone.
Yes, “Butch was there.”
Beth Butler’s sister told of a recent cherished weekend together. Eating lemon tarts. Dressing up. “She was tall, she was soft, … she loved to dance … We were so near to one another.” It was their last weekend together, said Alexis Butler. “She was my Valentine.”
The detective worked her cases — and she was a working mother who rose in a male-dominated profession and saw her position as an opportunity to help other women. And she too was cut down in a day of horror.
The tens of thousands in the arena, listening in Santa Cruz, watching on TV heard a Father’s Day message from Butch Baker’s daughter, Jillian, written eight years before for her dad.
They saw Elizabeth Butler’s partner, Peter Wu, holding their son, Joaquin, who wore a police hat.
“Goodbye, my love,” said Peter.
The dead can speak, if not in words.
They spoke Thursday in how they served their city. Stood tall with others from the same calling.
In how she broke barriers. How he thought, sometimes, of retirement. Spoke in the way he loved his wife and children, and they loved him back and now he’s gone. Spoke volumes in how she loved her partner, her young sons, her family, who will forever miss her.
Blink for a moment and they’re still there, at birthday parties, on camping trips, at ball games, walking the beach …
Butch Baker and Elizabeth Butler saw the darkest side of people — and sometimes the best. But they never gave up hope that in some way, in their way, on their watch, they could make a difference.
And so they did, in life, and now in death.
Broken lives in a broken world … we try to make sense of the senseless and pledge, as Leon Panetta said Thursday, “never to look the other way” so the kind of darkness engulfing the killer gets passed along, gathering malevolence, where it eventually overtakes … Elizabeth Butler and Butch Baker.
Nothing can replace what a madman took away, said Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel.
And yet … We weep with those who weep, mourn those who are lost to us, and reach out for the peace we only glimpse in the most fleeting of moments on this planet, in the valleys, in the shadows.
As the Bible says, death is the destiny of everyone and the living should take this to heart.
Cherish each moment.
And we choose to believe death is not the end, not for Elizabeth Butler, not for Butch Baker — that their story doesn’t end here, but lives on, in their families, their friends, their city and with those who served alongside them.