He was a military veteran, a police officer, and a captivating storyteller.
In his short career with the Reedley Police Department, Javier Bejar, 28, earned a reputation as someone who was a strong leader despite his relative inexperience.
He was the first one to come in to work and the last one to leave. He was eager to move up the ranks, but only if it meant he wouldn't be stuck behind a desk. And when the call came over the radio last month that a sheriff's deputy had been gunned down, he jumped into his car and was one of the first on the scene.
Bejar, who never wanted to be anything other than a police officer, died doing what he loved best.
On Monday, more than 3,500 people packed the Fresno Convention Center to honor and remember Bejar. With almost every chair taken, more than a hundred people stood in the back during the 90-minute memorial service.
"He was a friend, a husband, an officer, but most of all, a hero," said John Salas, Bejar's barber and a lifelong friend.
Bejar was mortally wounded Feb. 25 during a shootout in Minkler that also claimed the life of Fresno County sheriff's deputy Joel Wahlenmaier and injured a second deputy. The suspect, Ricky Liles, later ended his own life with a gunshot to the head.
Bejar, who was taken off life support March 1, was the first Reedley officer killed in the line of duty in the department's 100-year history.
About half of the people who attended the memorial service were uniformed officers, deputies, correctional officers, medics and firefighters who came from across California and from dozens of agencies. There were also several Marines who came to honor one of their own. Bejar had served in the military for four years, including a 14-month stint in Kuwait and Iraq.
Later, a procession of several hundred squad cars -- including some from as far as away as San Diego, Amador County and Santa Clara County -- filled two lanes of M Street for five blocks. The caravan proceeded south on Highway 99 to Reedley for burial service.
As the miles-long procession arrived, hundreds of residents from the city of 25,000 fanned onto the cemetery lawn.
Marines provided a 21-gun salute. Family members wiped tears from their eyes.
A few seconds later, five helicopters flew over the cemetery in a V-pattern. One veered off to the south, symbolizing the fallen officer. Later, a radio in a Reedley police car announced Bejar's name and badge number with a final sign-off.
At the memorial service, Bejar was remembered for his soft side: As a man who fell in love with his future wife, Miriam, and brought her to the Eiffel Tower in Paris to propose. And as an officer who, after handcuffing a suspect and putting him in the back of his squad car, rolled down the window so the suspect could say good-bye to his girlfriend.
That friendly gesture backfired: The suspect crawled out the window and escaped. It made for an embarrassing, yet amusing, story that was rehashed several times Monday.
Bejar was also remembered for his ambition: He had won several awards and consistently led in DUI arrests for the Reedley Police Department. And even though he was a police officer for less than five years, he was a mentor who trained several officers and also helped lead the Police Department's Explorer program, a course that trains teenagers who want pursue law enforcement careers.
It was through the same Explorer program that a teenage Bejar had decided his future career as a cop. Most of all, perhaps, Bejar will be remembered for his stories -- and the sound effects of sirens and screeching cars that came with them.
"Bejar would tell a story with his entire body," said Reedley police officer Cesar Gonzalez. "He would kick, punch, fall on the ground -- whatever it would take. He was so animated that whenever he told a story, everyone in the Police Department would come into the room to hear it."
He married Miriam in November 2008. The couple later moved to Clovis.
His family, which includes five brothers and two sisters, immigrated from Mexico. His sister, Maricela Chavez, offered a tearful eulogy that praised Bejar as a respectful son, a dedicated officer, and a loving husband. "I will greatly miss you, Javier," she said. "I will miss your hugs, your smiles, and your laughter. At every family gathering, we will be waiting for you."
Shot, killed in the line of duty
Central San Joaquin Valley officers shot and killed in the line of duty (listed by year, officer and agency):
1889: John Nicholas Wren, Tulare County Sheriff
1892: Oscar A. Beaver, Tulare County Sheriff
1907: Harry Van Meter, Fresno Police
1911: J.A. McClure, San Joaquin Valley Railroad
1919: Jack Chelton Harris Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad
1924: George William Boyle, Kingsburg Constable 1931: F.G. Campbell, Fresno Police
1931: J.O. Brame, Fresno Police
1951: Carl Oscar Johnson, Tulare County Sheriff
1973: Sal Mosqueda, Fresno Police
1975: Steven Lindblom, Madera County Sheriff
1975: Alfred Turner, California Highway Patrol
1975: Sixto Maldonado, Firebaugh Police
1979: Lanny Stevenson, Fresno Police
1981: Michael David Avila, Parlier Police
1998: James Rapozo, Visalia Police
2001: Erik Telen, Fresno County Sheriff
2002: Dennis Phelps, Fresno County Sheriff
2004: Stephan Gray, Merced Police
2007: Kent Haws, Tulare County Sheriff
2010: Joel Wahlenmaier, Fresno County Sheriff
2010: Javier Bejar, Reedley Police