Photos by Will Davison
Every year, they come to the short granite marker.
Sometimes they bring flowers.
Sometimes they come to smoke cigars.
Some years there are just a handful.
On Wednesday, the corner of Stevenson Ranch and Poe Parkways was packed with more than 100 cops and a small group of neighbors.
They gathered on the grass, while a fire engine used its ladder to hoist an American flag that waved in a gentle breeze over Stevenson Ranch Parkway.
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The gathering was much more peaceful than the incident that happened a decade earlier, when fire and gunshots and chaos prevailed and one of Santa Clarita’s finest was killed.
On August 31, 2001, Los Angeles County Deputy Hagop “Jake” Kuredjian died when a bullet fired by James Allen Beck, a suspect wanted for stockpiling guns and impersonating a U.S. Marshal, flew from a second story window and struck him in the head.
Every year, the community’s memory is jogged and some of the officers who knew Jake visit the corner where his memorial stands.
Today, they came from surrounding cities and county offices to honor him and let his family know they’d never forget.
Santa Clarita Valley Station Captain Paul Becker presented Kuredjian’s mother, Annie, with a bouquet of flowers before addressing the crowd.
“Today we gather in remembrance of a true hero, Jake Kuredjian,” he began. “It’s hard to believe that it’s was 10 years ago today that Jake responded in protection of this very community and this neighborhood. He did so without hesitation or reservation. When duty called, Jake courageously answered that call. With unwavering commitment, he put the community in the safety of his hands and for that, we own an eternal debt of gratitude.”
Surveying the crowd under a wide white tent, Becker made an observation.
“It is evident that the residents and community leaders are committed to preserving Jake’s memory,” he said, ticking off a list of other tributes – Jake Kuredjian Park a few blocks away and Deputy Jake Way, near McGrath Elementary School in Newhall.
“All of these gestures serve as prevalent community remember to help keep Jake’s memory alive forever in our community,” Becker continued. “On this day, we will honor and respect the memory of our friend and comrade. We humbly turn to the Kuredjian family and thank them for sharing their son, their brother and our hero.”
Chief Neal Tyler, who had just assumed command of the region that included the Santa Clarita Valley shortly before August 2011, said he learned a lot about the familial nature of the department and of this community.
“The Chief called and said that an officer had been shot in a barricaded suspect situation,” he said. “What I saw the next three days was a combination of heroism and love on the part of everyone involved with the Santa Clarita Station and the units who came out to help.
“I didn’t know Jake. I got gypped. But between that day and now I’ve learned a lot about him. The rest of that day, I saw a lot of heroism and I also saw total love. I saw (Santa Clarita Valley station commander) Don Rodriguez suffer through the hardest thing a captain has to handle ever, and do a masterful job of taking care of his family, which was all around him at the station. It was very difficult for him because he knew Jake very well. I was very proud of what Don did, I learned a lot about class, dignity and showing love for people from watching Don.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich has presided over previous commemorations of Jake’s ultimate sacrifice, but it still showed a toll on the experienced politician. A prepared speech was in hand, but the supervisor chose to speak from his heart.
“I’m very close to the Armenian community, and to look at his mother’s face…” he said, choking back tears. “I’ll start again. Lt. Rob Lewis helped organize this event. What’s wonderful about the Sheriff’s Department…”
He stopped, visibly distressed.
“What’s wonderful about the Sheriff’s Department is the support they give one another, he said, adding that the Stevenson Ranch community’s support was appreciated by providing the plaque in tribute to Kuredjian.
“He is a wonderful role model for the young people,” Antonovich continued, looking at the deputy’s family. “It tell our young people that there are positive contributions you can make to society if you become responsible, dedicated to your family, your community and your church or synagogue.
“In Jake, we have a role model in a man who defended his community against violence,” he continued. “It’s a family that stays together and recognizes their son, their brother, their loved ones’ contributions to their community and to their family and it’s our opportunity to say thank you for your commitment and for your loved one’s sacrifice because he was defending our community, our state and our nation.”
Santa Clarita Mayor Marsha McLean chose to speak mother-to-mother with Annie Kuredgian.
“I know it doesn’t matter if it’s one day or ten days or ten years; as a mom, you just never get over it and I know we never do either,” she said, looking down at the petite silver-haired woman in the front row. I want you to know that we appreciate you and your family and that we appreciated Jake. We all knew him and liked him.”
“When someone is lost, you can’t express enough for the feelings of the family and friends who have to go on without the one they love,” McLean continued. “There is not ever enough that we can say or do; no speech or ceremony, no plaque or street sign can bring back our fallen hero, our friend, Deputy Jake. Thank you for all of you who serve us every single day and my heart goes out to you, as a mom, 100 percent.”
Retired LASD Sgt. Bob Norlemann, who founded the Downed Officers Support Ride, got up to the podium with a wide smile.
“Live well, love much, laugh often,” he read. “That the inscription on the little stand down here. I know Jake knows this is going on down here because I put on my suit and tie this morning, for the first time in seven years and as I was pouring a Diet Coke, he knocked it out of my hand and all over my shirt. So it’s a happy day, not a sad one.
“The reason I came up today was I wanted to explain the photograph on the T-shirt,” he said, pointing to a shirt hanging in the back of the crowd. “But you need a little bit of background first.”
Norlemann and Kuredjian met in 1993 when the two were working on the Malibu fires; during down time, they shared their love of motorcycles and learned that each had a Harley Davidson bike. Stationed at different locations, they missed working with each other until 1996, when both were assigned to the Santa Clarita Valley station.
“I was starting the Downed Officer Support Ride and he supported it every year, never knowing that one day it might come to his benefit.” The two went on to start a motorcycle club for police and fire called the Iron Warriors.
“As a founder of the Downed Officers Ride, I had to come up with an idea for a shirt, and we had to change them every year. I had an idea of a cop and a biker shaking hands, to show what this ride’s all about, the bikers helping families of cops and firemen, so I asked Jake to pose for the picture.
“That was August 25, 2001,” he continued. “Six days later, Jake was gone. Just a couple blocks from here. Anyway, that’s all I have, I appreciate everyone being here. Please don’t make this a sad day, because it’s a happy day.”
Jake’s brother, Garo, wearing the uniform of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, spoke about his brother.
“I want to thank you all for continuing to keep my brother’s memory alive. Jake loved the Santa Clarita Valley and its residents; his truest love was the LA County Sheriff’s Department. He ate it, he drank it, he loved it,” he said. “Many of you out here today were, in the truest sense, his family.”
Kuredjian said that the outpouring of support after Jake’s death was overwhelming, but allowed the family to do three important things: a law enforcement scholarship was established at Alpina College, where he studied before joining LASD. A Wall of Honor has been created, with pictures and biographies of officers trained at the college who have died in the line of duty. Another scholarship was established through the Armenian National Peace Officers Association for students wishing to study law enforcement.
Lastly, Kuredjian said that his brother’s stewardship continues, as a library was founded at a small school in Armenia.
“None of these things would have been possible without your support,” he said. “Thank you for continuing to talk about Jake, sharing your stories and coming to this memorial year after year. These things show how much Jake meant to you and they mean so much to us. We are grateful, after 10 years, that Jake continues to live in the hearts of all of you.”