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'The beginning of his legacy': Fallen KCSO Deputy Phillip Campas honored in Washington, DC

Grief may overwhelm members of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard while marching because of the loss of fellow member Deputy Phillip Campas, but Sgt. Dustin Contreras reminds them Campas would want them to be stoic, as is required.

“All of the honor guard looked up to (Campas) as a leader,” Contreras said. “That's what I tell them: ‘Keep thinking in your mind — what would Phil do? That’s going to keep you on the right path.’”

The KCSO Honor Guard will hope to use this wisdom during its first-ever march Saturday in the Emerald Society & Pipeband March in Washington, D.C. Campas’ family and other KCSO deputies went to the nation’s capital this week for a series of memorials throughout the weekend.

Campas, 35, died July 25 while responding to a hostage situation related to a domestic violence incident in Wasco. The mass shooting killed Campas and four others, including the shooter. As part of Friday's ceremony, California Highway Patrol Officer Scott Merritt, 42, of Bakersfield, who died from complications related to COVID-19 in September, will also be recognized.

Events begin Friday with a candlelight vigil at the National Mall where 619 officers' names newly engraved onto the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in 2021 will be recited to the audience, including those of Campas and Merritt. It's the most names the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund has read aloud since 1930, according to the NLEOMF. Of these names, 472 are from 2021. The other 147 names died prior to 2021, whose stories “had been lost to history until now,” the NLEOMF said in a statement.

“By saying the names of the individuals who gave their lives to this profession, in protecting the people and communities they served, we are indicating we will never forget them,” Marcia Ferranto, CEO of the memorial, wrote in an email to The Californian. “By reading the names of our fallen heroes, we honor them and share their story. Behind every name on the memorial is a hero, and a family and community changed forever.”

Seeing Campas’ name etched into the curving, 304-foot-long, blue-gray limestone walls was “breathtaking” for Contreras, who added that seeing the fallen deputy's name elicited a “mixed bag of feelings.”

“It's closure in one sense, but it also is the beginning of his legacy,” Contreras said.

“It's life-changing to see (Campas’ name),” he added. “It's the biggest honor just to be next to his name and represent him and represent the family and represent Kern County.”

Campas’ family also met with Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, while visiting Washington, D.C. The House minority leader issued a statement about the meeting.

“Within the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Campas was known as a rising star, hard worker and team player,” McCarthy wrote on Facebook. “But more importantly, in his personal life he was also known as a caring friend, thoughtful son, doting husband and loving father. It was an honor to meet with his family today, and Judy and I will continue to keep them in our prayers.”

On Sunday, families will partake in a wreath-laying ceremony.

Contreras said the memorial allows him to bond with the other families and the survivors. Campas’ story extended outside of Kern County, he added.

“Everyone knew not only how (Campas) died, but how he lived and what he did for this department,” Contreras said.

Manuel Rosario, officer with the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office in New Jersey, heard about Campas’ story and honored him by riding 210 miles in Campas’ name during the Police Unity Tour, a bicycle ride spanning the East Coast and ending in Washington, D.C. for the beginning of National Police Week, which started Wednesday and continues until Tuesday.

Thinking about Campas’ ultimate sacrifice, Rosario said, helps them to push through the pain of riding a bike for hundreds of miles.

Rosario arrived in Washington on Thursday and met Campas’ family for the first time. He said seeing the fallen deputy's family members was very emotional.

“You could see it in his wife’s face … the pain that she's gone through with the loss of her husband,” Rosario said. “You can see it in their children's faces, the pain that they've gone through. This is why we do it.”

You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @idesai98 on Twitter.