Family, friends and hundreds of law enforcement officers gathered at Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette on Friday morning to honor slain Arvada police officer Dillon Vakoff.
Vakoff was shot and killed early Sunday morning while responding to a call about a large domestic disturbance. The Arvada native was 27 years old and spent six years in the U.S. Air Force before joining his hometown police force in 2019.
“This man was the epitome of what you want in a police officer and the epitome of what makes this profession noble,” said Link Strate, Arvada’s Chief of Police. “Although we like to think that we molded Dillon into the exceptional public servant that he was – that his exceptionalism started with us, our academy, our training, our culture – truth be told, it started long before us.”
Friends and colleagues described Vakoff’s constant smile and commitment to his work, but his family was too distraught to speak during the ceremony. His girlfriend Megan Esslinger, herself an Arvada police officer, called Vakoff a hero who loved the people he served.
“When we all take the oath, we know the risks. They tell us the possibility of being killed in the line of duty. They tell us the possibility of losing a friend and coworker, but no one ever tells you how it will be after everything settles. After you have to bury your best friend and the person you envisioned your life with. How that will feel without them or what you go through,” she said. “No one tells you how that phone call hits you like a train. And all you can do is pray.”
Esslinger was one of several speakers who described Vakoff’s dream of being a SWAT officer. She remembered long gym sessions together and an intense focus on what he needed to grow as an officer and person.
But she also opened a window into their private life, at one point promising Vakoff that she’d look after his dog, Nemesis.
“[Dillon’s] smile lit up a room. Whenever we were out, he would always wanna dance with me. Even if there was no music, we would dance at the zoo, in the middle of the street, even waiting in line for a baseball game,” Esslinger said. “Those were the times he enjoyed most because all he cared about, and all I cared about, was that it was me and him.”
Officer Joe Galvez first met Vakoff when they joined the police academy. The two would work as part of the same squad, sharing an office “the size of a cubicle.” After teasing Vakoff for his short shorts and love of firefighters, Galvez became emotional. He said Vakoff always promised to bring him home safely, and his word was bond.
“Losing a brother in arms is not easy, but he went down fighting in the line of duty, protecting those he loved and protecting those he did not know,” Galvez said.
Police have not released many details about what led up to Vakoff’s shooting. In their initial statement, Arvada police said they received a call about a family argument that turned violent. One woman was injured, and Vakoff was the only fatality.
Sonny Thomas Almanza, 31, who was shot by police during the shootout, survived and is charged in Vakoff’s death. He is being held without bond in Jefferson County.
Almanza faces charges of first degree murder of a peace officer, attempted murder, possession of a weapon by a previous offender and child abuse. His next court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday.
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