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Candlelight vigil honors Fresno County deputy

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  • Share your thoughts and memories about Deputy Joel Wahlenmaier and Officer Javier Bejar
  • A little more than a week before he died, Joel Wahlenmaier talked about going backpacking with his friend.

    Eric Schmidt recalled relaxing on a Saturday with Wahlenmaier and other friends and family as they watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games on TV and ate pizza.

    That was one of the last times they saw each other. On Thursday, Wahlenmaier, a Fresno County sheriff’s deputy, was fatally wounded in a shootout with an arson suspect in Minkler.

    When he learned of his friend’s death, Schmidt said, “my legs were shaking, my heart was pounding, my mind was moving faster than a computer. I had just lost you in my life Joel, one of my best friends.”

    Schmidt was among those who spoke during a candlelight vigil tonight in Courthouse Park in downtown Fresno. Nearly 200 gathered to remember him.

    Schmidt, president of the Fresno Deputy Sheriff’s Association, spoke along with Sheriff Margaret Mims, Police Chief Jerry Dyer and Leon Isaacs, president of the Central California Concerns of Police Survivors.

    Mims directed the crowd’s attention to the monument in the park that honors fallen officers.

    “It wasn’t long ago that there was extra stone added to this monument with all of the wishes that we would never, ever, have to etch a name on those extra pieces,” Mims said. “This year, we will have two more names added to that stone.”

    The Minkler shootout also claimed the life of Reedley police officer Javier Bejar, and a second deputy was injured. The suspect, 51-year-old Ricky Liles, later ended his own life with a gunshot to the head.

    Investigators were trying to serve a search warrant at Liles’ mobile home Thursday morning were met by a barrage of gunfire from Liles, who was suspected in a series of arson fires and shootings.

    After the speakers were finished, candles were lit and heads bowed to recognize Wahlenmaier, Bejar and other fallen officers.

    Among the people paying their respects was Deputy Sheriff Kelly Mayfield, who had worked with Wahlenmaier for 10 years.

    “I’m here to support Joel Wahlenmaier, and I’m here to support all of the law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day to protect the citizens unconditionally and unequivocally,” he said, “sacrificing their lives to make sure the public is safe.”

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