A hero’s final farewell

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Hawaii Police Department Maj. Samuel Jelsma speaks during the funeral service of fallen Officer Bronson Kaliloa Saturday at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Casey Kaliloa, wife of fallen Officer Bronson Kaliloa, hugs a loved one after her husband's funeral service Saturday at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Law enforcement personnel line the sidewalks of Manono Street flanking the funeral procession for fallen Officer Bronson Kaliloa Saturday outside of Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Chief Paul Ferreira presents colors to Casey Kaliloa, wife of fallen Officer Bronson Kaliloa, during her husband's burial service Saturday at Homelani Memorial Park in Hilo.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Jamin Hiebert gives the eulogy for his uncle, fallen Hawaii Police Department Officer Bronson Kaliloa Saturday at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo.

More than a thousand people, including police officers and first responders from across Hawaii and beyond, paid their final respects Saturday to fallen Hawaii Police Department Officer Bronson Kaliloa.

Kaliloa was remembered by police Chaplain Lorin Carmichael, who rode along with the Puna patrol officer and 10-year police veteran, as “a true man of God.”

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“Without a shadow of doubt, no question in mind, I know, absolutely, where Bronson is right now — in the kingdom of God. He’s in heaven,” Carmichael told those assembled, including Gov. David Ige, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and other dignitaries.

The service, at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo, included Na Hoku Hanohano winners Kawika Kahiapo and Mark Yamanaka singing heartfelt renditions of, respectively, “Aloha Is” and “How Great Thou Art” — the latter, mostly in Hawaiian. Ige presented Kaliloa’s wife, Casey, a Hawaiian flag.

It was followed by a procession to the Pahoa police station and back, ending at Homelani Memorial Park. There, Kaliloa was laid to rest, honored by a 21-gun salute, a flower drop and a presentation to the fallen officer’s widow of colors — the American flag — by Police Chief Paul Ferreira.

Kaliloa was twice named East Hawaii Officer of the Month, in October 2012 and April 2014, and Puna Patrol Officer of the Year for 2014. His watch ended July 18, several hours after being shot during a traffic stop along Highway 11 in Mountain View.

“On that night, the unthinkable became reality, something that every police officer and their families live with every day,” Ferreira said during the memorial service.

“I’m certain there won’t be a day that goes by that we won’t remember how Bronson touched our lives, all of us,” Ferreira continued. “But we need to let it happen and know that we will get through this. Sure, pain will be there, but we can conquer it by the fact that Bronson will always be with us in our hearts.

“… I want to thank the Kaliloa ‘ohana for sharing Bronson with us. And know that you are … now and forever will be part of this police ‘ohana.”

Maj. Samuel Jelsma, the Puna District commander, said Kaliloa “always carried himself as a professional, being above reproach, not only on the job but in his personal life, as well.”

After Kaliloa was named Puna Patrol Officer of the Year, he was offered a six-month tour of duty in the department’s Special Enforcement Unit, a plainclothes, Monday through Friday assignment.

“Most officers would jump at this opportunity if it were offered. But Bronson turned it down, not only once, twice,” Jelsma said. “… Bronson truly loved being in uniform, the camaraderie of his fellow beat partners … even in a busy district such as Puna.”

Puna officers have been on 12-hour shifts since the current lower East Rift Zone eruption of Kilauea volcano started May 3. Jelsma said Kaliloa assumed his watch on July 17 after a 12-hour shift the previous night, court appearances that day, and hours clearing paperwork because he was ready to go on vacation.

“His dedication to his fellow officers, backing them up on a high-risk traffic stop is why we’re here today, remembering a truly great Hawaii police officer and human being, one who will live on forever in our memories,” Jelsma said.

Kaliloa’s colleague and friend, Officer Matthew Bartz, said he, Kaliloa and their families bonded “through our friendship and mutual love of God.”

“We were privileged in so many ways as we watched the Kaliloa family grow with wonderful children, the oldest son Samson, daughter Grace, and the youngest son, Nathan,” Bartz said. “… Over the years, our kids imagined themselves as superheroes together, destroyed their fair share of pinatas together, and even walked the plank of a pirate ship at a Peter Pan birthday.”

“Of course, we would talk about more trivial things, as well,” Bartz recalled. “Bronson had an affinity for Superman, ‘Star Wars,’ firearms and even Elvis. And it was funny how even these thoughts would transition from trivial to profound. I remember one conversation in which Bronson pointed out that Superman’s creators were the children of Jewish immigrants, hence the character named Jor-El for the father of Superman, Kal-El for Superman, with the term ‘El’ being the Hebrew word for ‘god.’”

A slideshow started with Kaliloa’s mother, Gail, holding him as an infant. The snapshots of the officer’s life were accompanied by music, including Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me,” Israel Kamakawiwoole’s “In This Life,” and the poignant “One Moment More” by Mindy Smith.

Kaliloa’s nephew, Jamin Hiebert, then delivered an eloquent, 20-minute eulogy that was alternately humorous and touching.

Hiebert began with Kaliloa’s childhood in Colorado, where he became a die-hard Denver Broncos fan, progressed to his family’s move to Kauai when Kaliloa was 11 and Kaliloa’s time as a city bus driver in Honolulu, which culminated in Kaliloa earning a commercial driver’s license and moving to Hilo to be a truck driver.

Eschewing the podium and engaging the audience directly, Hiebert said when Kaliloa set his mind to something, he was “all in” — except once. The future police officer, he said, signed Army enlistment papers in hopes of becoming a Green Beret, then changed his mind before taking the oath.

“It’s a done deal,” Hiebert said. “So he goes out with friends that night. … The next morning, he went back to the recruitment office and says, ‘I just met the girl I’m gonna marry.’ … “The recruitment officer just went ballistic. He told him, very explicitly, ‘Get out!’”

“From that moment, he went into hyper mode trying to win her heart,” Hiebert said. “I remember a glass rose he gave her. I remember a little shaky snow globe that he gave her. He even gave her — this was the ’90s — a cassette tape with a single of All-4-One singing ‘I Swear.’ Believe me, it was as cheesy then as it is right now. But it worked. … Remember, this was the MTV era. He watched the video all the way to the end. The love interest kisses the singer on the forehead, which means ‘we’re just friends.’ And then, she gets on the city bus.”

Unlike the singer, Kaliloa, then a bus driver, got the girl, Hiebert said. Casey would ask which bus Kaliloa was driving and ride along. The couple shared stories, became closer, and wed in 1995.

“Uncle Bronson was a really good listener,” he said. “And I can tell you, hours he would spend listening to the kupuna, sitting around, hearing the stories from other people. … And he would tell stories, but his stories were a little different than most people’s. Other people, you would listen to their stories, and there’s a theme running through all their stories. In every story, they’d come out the hero. But Uncle Bronson’s stories, he didn’t mind coming out not the hero. He didn’t mind looking a little foolish or a little silly. As long as it made you laugh, he was fine.”

Hiebert said his uncle “found a purpose through a promise” which led him to become a foster parent, adoptive parent and police officer.

“The promise is when we say, ‘I will go on as long as there is one more person that needs to be loved,’” he said. “It’s the promise that says, ‘When you call for backup, I will come.’ And the flip side that says, ‘When I’m hurting, I will call for backup and wait for you to come, and we’ll go through it together.’ … It’s the promise of God that ‘I will raise you up, if you’re willing to be that person.’ It’s the promise of God that says, ‘I will be a father to the fatherless’ — with the purpose to the promise, the promises that Uncle Bronson kept. The promises that God, even now, is keeping.”

Hiebert said the family can’t “even begin to express” its gratitude for “the outpouring of love from the community.”

The fallen officer’s nephew also praised Special Response Team Sgt. Bryan Tina, who’s recovering from gunshots sustained in the July 20 shootout at South Point that resulted in the death of Kaliloa’s killer, Justin Waiki.

“There is nothing I can say more eloquent than the wounds of honor that he will carry the rest of his life,” Hiebert said.

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“All I can say is ‘thank you’ to him.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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