Crime & Justice

Tears, laughter shed at funeral for slain Whittier officer

People gather in Whittier for a vigil for police officer Keith Boyer, who was shot and killed Monday morning after he and another officer tried to pat down a motorist involved in a traffic accident. The man was driving a stolen car officials say was connected to a murder hours earlier.
People gather in Whittier for a vigil for police officer Keith Boyer, who was shot and killed Monday morning after he and another officer tried to pat down a motorist involved in a traffic accident. The man was driving a stolen car officials say was connected to a murder hours earlier.
Kyle Stokes

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Family, friends and fellow law enforcement officers filled a Southern California church with laughter, tears and music Friday as they mourned the death and celebrated the life of a Whittier police officer slain as he tried to help a motorist who turned a gun on him.

Veteran Officer Keith Lane Boyer was remembered not only as a dedicated officer but a friendly man who loved both law enforcement and music.

In his nearly 30 years with the Whittier Police Department he took on nearly every assignment there, always with a smile, said Police Chief Jeff Piper.

One of Boyer's partners, Officer Mike Carson noted candidly how police work can change some officers, making them hardened and callous. But he said that in Boyer's nearly 30 years on the force that never happened to him.

"He showed up at work with a smile on his face every day and left every day with a smile on his face," Carson said. "I never heard him use profanity. I never heard him use a racial slur. He judged no one and friended everyone."

Calvary Chapel’s main sanctuary holds over 3,000 people and an adjacent room was set up for many people who couldn’t fit.

Whittier resident Irma Perez was one of the people who attended the service. She didn’t know Boyer, she said, but felt a duty to pay her respects because the police department works closely with neighborhood groups. She lives close to where Boyer was shot during what appeared to be a routine traffic stop.

“I felt like I was violated, because they killed one of our own,” she said.

She said the shooting has led her and her neighbors to keep in touch even more.

Most of the church was filled with police officers. The streets around Calvary Chapel were clogged during the services with squad cars from police departments around Whittier, but also from across Southern California. Representatives from police departments in Texas and New York attended.

“I don’t think that’s on people’s radar, the level of sacrifice, the willingness to go out there and continue to do it regardless of the threat,” said L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell.

Whittier elected officials said the police officer’s death has shaken the city.

“This has been a tremendously difficult situation for the city but the city has come together, the people of Whittier have come together supporting the Boyer family,” said Whittier Mayor Joe Vinatieri as he walked out of the church.

Boyer, who grew up in Whittier, joined the city's Police Department as a dispatcher in 1989, becoming a full-time officer the following year.

Over the years he worked as a SWAT officer, training officer, school resource officer, canine officer and patrol officer.

"He had a profound impact on hundreds of students and parents" when he was a school resource officer, Piper said, adding that Boyer not only worked to keep students safe but took a personal interest in them and their problems.

"He simply loved his job, he loved his co-workers and he loved his community," said Piper.

He was also a talented musician who played drums with several first-rate rock bands.

"Keith also played several times with not-so-talented groups, particularly the one I played guitar in," Piper added to laughter from the several thousand people who crowded the cavernous sanctuary.

Then, shortly before bursting into sobs, the chief added: "He's playing drums with the most magnificent band imaginable. God speed my brother in law enforcement and my friend."

The officer's three grown children, Joseph, Joshua and Ashley, performed the hymn "Amazing Grace" before each spoke movingly about their father.

"My father was courageous, not only in his final moments but always. He had no problem going on some random car chase or calling in some incident to the station when he was off duty," said his son Joseph.

He was also a prankster, added his son Joshua, noting that after his father's death the family called a locksmith to open his personal safe. Inside it they found some important papers along with a stash of magic tricks that Boyer would perform but never explain how he did them.

"I'm like, 'Dad, this is what you kept in your safe? Magic tricks?'," his son said. "I half expected to pull on a handkerchief and just keep pulling. But that was my dad."

The nearly two-hour service concluded with bagpipers playing as Boyer's flag-draped coffin was taken from the church for burial at a nearby cemetery.

Scores of grim-faced officers, each with a strip of black mourning tape across their badges, followed it out, some wiping away tears, others embracing one another.

On Feb. 20, Boyer, 53, became the first Whittier officer in nearly 40 years to die in the line of duty.
He and fellow Officer Patrick Hazell had gone to investigate a seemingly routine traffic accident, but when they asked the driver of one of the cars to get out authorities say he opened fire. Hazell and the suspect, Michael Meijia, 26, were wounded. Mejia remains hospitalized and it isn't known if he has an attorney.

Prosecutors contend that before the shooting Mejia killed his 47-year-old cousin Roy Torres in East Los Angeles, then stole his car and drove to nearby Whittier where he crashed it.
Prosecutors haven't said if they plan to seek the death penalty.

Mejia is a convicted robber and car thief who had been in and out of jail several times since his release from state prison in April. The last time he was released from jail was just nine days before the killings.

The Whittier Police Department, which patrols the city of about 85,000 and neighboring Santa Fe Springs, has had two other officers killed in the line of duty — a detective in 1979 and a corporal in 1977.