LAPD officer 2nd Marine to die in Afghanistan

Staff Sgt. Joshua J. Cullins in an undated photo of him.
Staff Sgt. Joshua J. Cullins in an undated photo of him.

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A 28-year-old Marine Corps bomb specialist and Los Angeles police officer was killed in a roadside blast in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

Staff Sgt. Joshua J. Cullins died Monday. He became the second LAPD officer killed this year with Marines in the war-torn province.

"Joshua was a highly respected Marine staff sergeant and LAPD officer who was honorably serving our country as a Marine reservist in Afghanistan when he was killed,'' Los Angeles Police Protective League President Paul Weber said today.

"This is a great loss for the LAPD and for everyone who knew him and witnesses his commitment to upholding his duty and honor as a police officer and a Marine. Our deepest condolences go out to his parents, family and friends.''

Cullins, an explosive ordinance disposal officer, had recently recovered from a concussion he suffered July 16 while dismantling another roadside bomb.

Two months ago, LAPD officers who patrol downtown Los Angeles took to the streets to make a video get-well card for Cullins, thanking him for his service and urging him to make it back home safe.

Buoyed by his friends' messages and by the accompanying music video dedicated to him, Cullins bounced back quickly. But on Tuesday, his friends learned that Cullins had died trying to disarm another bomb.

Police sources told the Los Angeles Times that Cullins was killed by a secondary bomb as his unit was investigating an earlier explosion.

A Marine Corps reservist, Cullins was serving with the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment in Marja, in Afghanistan's dangerous Helmand province.

A two-part "Welcome Home'' video for Cullins includes personal messages from Chief Charlie Beck to rookie patrolmen, telling "Josh'' they were looking forward to seeing him back at work in Los Angeles.

"There are no words to express how we feel,'' Capt. Daryl Russell said Tuesday. Russell commands patrol officers at the downtown Central Station and he was Cullins' LAPD boss.

"I'm so sad this has happened to a kid who really had a bright future with this police department,'' Russell said. "This is a total loss to this city and this country.''

Cullins was being courted by the LAPD's bomb squad because of his expertise dismantling bombs with the Marine Corps Reserve, Russell said.

After his concussion, Cullins returned to the field as quickly as doctors would allow, Russell said.

"He'd put in his time and could have had a desk job,'' Russell told The Times. "He continued wanting to be out with his fellow Marines, doing the job every day he strapped on his boots.''

Russell commissioned the "Welcome Home'' video. Officer David Marroquin, who has video production experience, recruited a friend, actor-musician J. Hunter Ackerman, to write and perform music for what became a nearly five-minute video.

The video was shot at the Salton Sea, the Farmers Market on Third Street, local police stations and from the top of the 52-story Gas Co. tower downtown.

Marroquin went to Cullins' parents' Simi Valley home Tuesday after learning of the Marine's death.

"It's hard to believe. Unfortunately, we will be welcoming him home in a different way than we expected and were hoping to,'' Marroquin said.

Cullins spoke frequently and exchanged e-mails with Marroquin after being surprised and delighted by the video and by his police comrades' well wishes.

The Marine posted his last entry on Marroquin's Facebook page on Saturday.

"He was a guy who had a lot on his mind and he was asking about how others here are doing and telling us to be safe on the streets back here,'' Marroquin told The Times. "He said he felt he wasn't worthy of the video and he hoped he wouldn't let everybody down by not making it home.''

Cullins is the second LAPD officer to die in Afghanistan. Robert J. Cottle, a SWAT officer and sergeant major with a Marine Corps Reserve battalion, was killed by a roadside bomb in Helmand province on March 24.

Cullins is survived by his parents, Jim and Barbara Cullins; and brothers, Cooper, 12, and Donovan, 16.

In August, Jim Cullins, who owns and operates Abe's Deli in Northridge, said his son joined the Marines a week after graduating from high school. He spent two years on duty at an embassy in Africa and later became interested in explosive ordinance disposal.

Joshua Cullins was deployed to Afghanistan, then Iraq before leaving active duty, Jim Cullins said. The younger Cullins became a Marine reservist specializing in bomb disposal and joined the LAPD in July 2008.

Jim Cullins said he worried about his son's Afghanistan work.

"Yes, it does bother me a lot that my son takes apart bombs,'' Jim Cullins told The Times. "But I've got one job only -- to be there and let him talk to me. There's no sense in me getting emotional when he says he has given me his power of attorney,'' he said.

"He told me: `Dad, remember this -- if I get hurt it's not your fault. I got into this by myself.' ''

KPCC's Frank Stoltze contributed audio to this report.