Thousands bid slain San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremiah MacKay goodbye (photos)

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Updated 3:30 p.m. Thousands of law enforcement officers from Riverside, San Diego and the rest of California gathered Thursday morning at the Mountain View Mortuary in San Bernardino to bid farewell to San Bernardino Sheriff's Detective Jeremiah MacKay, who was slain Feb. 12 by fugitive Christopher Dorner. 

A funeral procession to escort MacKay's casket to the San Manuel Amphitheater started at about 8 a.m. Local residents lined the five-mile route with many signs; one of them said: Thank you for your service.

That sentiment was echoed by many of the speakers at the somber event, including San Bernardino Sheriff John McMahon and MacKay's wife, Lynette.

The amphitheater is surrounded by mountains on each side. By 9:40 a.m., there are already hundreds of cars parked outside the theater, and visitors were being shuttled from the main road up the path, to accommodate all of the cars.

The few attendees not dressed in a uniform were largely dressed in black. It is quiet — all you can hear are muted conversations, helicopters hovering overhead and, occasionally, a police siren. Gray clouds lowered in the distance.

MacKay's flag-draped coffin made a loop around the amphitheater to the sound of dozens of bagpipes — MacKay was an avid piper himself and part of the department's Honor Guard — and was followed by a train of loved ones, deputies from his station, a riderless horse (representing a fallen warrior) and sheepdogs.

Speaking to the gathered mourners, MacKay's best friend, Roger Loftis asked, "Are there any sheep dogs out there?" Those from the Yucaipa station where MacKay was stationed knew the reference. 

"Let me explain that," Loftis said. MacKay, who graduated from the San Bernardino Sheriff's Academy on his 21st birthday, thought of himself as a sheep dog.

He saw the world as filled with a few different kinds of people, Loftis said. There are good, honest, people: the sheep. "Then there are evil people who will feed on the flock without mercy," Loftis said. "Jeremiah was a sheep dog, there to protect the flock with a capacity for violence, but love for fellow man." 

That dichotomy — the life-loving, hard-drinking goofball who rose to the rank of detective for his skill at hunting down car thieves — made MacKay the perfect policeman, many of MacKay's friends said at the two-hour memorial service.

MacKay died in a gunfight — "ambush," San Bernardino County Sheriff McMahon said — with ex-LAPD officer and suspected murderer Dorner. "He was at a tactical disadvantage," said McMahon, noting that Dorner had surprised MacKay and fellow deputy Alex Collins as they searched for the fugitive near the mountain cabin where Dorner eventually died.

"But [MacKay] stayed" to fight Dorner, McMahon said. "He died so others did not have to. We all owe Jeremiah a great deal of gratitude."

The 35-year-old deputy spent the day before he died with his 4-month-old son, Cayden, who friends said was MacKay's pride and joy.

When his wife returned home for the day, MacKay was his usual, energy-filled self, excited that his young son had learned to throw a punch "with follow-through." 

MacKay, who grew up in the mountains, had volunteered to search for Dorner over the weekend because he knew the terrain and, according to Loftis, had a feeling that he'd be the one to find Dorner.

But on Monday, MacKay's wife, Lynette, asked him to stay home with the kids, and he did. The next day, McMahon said, MacKay died when he found Dorner, helping end the period of "terror" that had ensued while the ex-LAPD cop was on the loose.

MacKay's father, firefighter Alan MacKay, said his son died doing the job he loved. He said Jeremiah had tried out his dad's profession but said firefighting was "too boring" for him.

"He said, 'I think I want to be a sheriff,'" Alan MacKay said. "He wanted to intervene when somebody was hurting somebody else."

MacKay said his son lived to help others and train them to be better at what they did, whether as a training officer or a ski instructor.

A gunshot salute and 10-helicopter flyover closed the ceremony as MacKay's widow received his burial flag from an emotional Sheriff McMahon.

At the end came the longstanding tradition at memorials for law enforcement officers: last call.

"This is the last call for Detective MacKay," said a woman's voice over the amphitheater's loudspeaker. "Thank you for your service."

PREVIOUSLY: When people talk about Jeremiah MacKay, the bagpipes come up often.

From a Scottish background, MacKay was a detective in the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, and played in the department’s Honor Guard. Just over two years ago, MacKay, played the bagpipes at the Wagon Wheel Country Music Festival, a benefit for the recently murdered Riverside officer Ryan Bonaminio.

On Thursday, an Honor Guard will play in MacKay’s honor. The 35-year-old deputy, like Bonaminio, was shot to death by the suspect he was chasing.

MacKay, along with Deputy Alex Collins, were “ambushed” by ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner as he hid from police in a nearby cabin on Feb. 12, according to Sheriff John McMahon.  The deputies were searching for Dorner after he exchanged gunfire with Fish and Wildlife wardens when the fugitive opened fire from a nearby cabin, killing MacKay and leaving Collins critically wounded, McMahon said.

Dorner later died in that cabin, likely from a self-inflicted gunshot wound as the structure caught fire. By then, the accused murderer was surrounded by sheriff’s deputies, who, under automatic rifle fire, shot at the cabin and pumped it full of tear gas and then the “hot gas” that potentially caught it on fire, authorities said.

RELATED:   See all of KPCC's coverage of the Chsitopher Dorner case

MacKay grew up in the mountains where he served as a deputy. When he was four, MacKay joined his dad on a mountain climb, possibly the youngest person ever to summit Mt. San Gorgonio.

Later, MacKay worked as a snowboarding and ski instructor and later at Big Bear Lake. But, according to the sheriff’s department, he found his “true calling” at 21, when he graduated from the sheriff’s training academy and joined the department as a deputy.

A biography released by the department says: “Jeremiah was very proud of being a deputy sheriff and his dignity manifested itself in his work. He was the recipient of five CHP 10851 awards and three Commander’s Awards.”

Jeremiah MacKay leaves behind his wife, Lynette MacKay, and two children, a 7-year-old stepdaughter and a 4-month-old son.

A native of Lake Arrowhead, MacKay graduated from Rim of the World High School. 

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