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‘Firemen aren’t supposed to get shot.’ Thousands mourn Long Beach fireman killed on duty

Alec Rosa woke up that day to an early-morning phone call from his mother that seemed to make no sense.

His father, Long Beach Fire Capt. Dave Rosa, had been shot at work. He didn’t make it.

“I just kind of sat there after the call in shock,” Alec Rosa, 25, said. “My dad’s a fireman. Firemen aren’t supposed to get shot.”

In the days since Rosa was killed as he responded to an explosion at a senior living complex, his older son has slowly realized he’ll never again be able to drop by the fire station to hang out. His mom will no longer hear his dad coming in the door, saying, “Honey, I’m home!” His little brother won’t be able to look out in the stands from his baseball games and see his dad there, cheering him on.

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The day his dad died, Alec Rosa wept for 10 hours straight, until his body was numb.

Alec Rosa spoke on Tuesday at his father’s funeral at the Long Beach Convention Center, where thousands of mourners, including scores of uniformed firefighters and police officers, gathered to pay their respects to the 45-year-old fireman.

Rosa’s flag-draped casket was slowly driven to the convention center in the back of a Long Beach firetruck covered in black-and-purple bunting and escorted into the building by firefighters in white gloves. Photographs of the mustachioed fire captain smiling with his family lined the stage inside. The sound of bagpipers playing “Amazing Grace” cut through the silence.

Rosa, a 17-year veteran of the Fire Department, died June 25. He and his crew had responded to a predawn call to Covenant Manor, a high-rise housing complex for seniors, where there had been an explosion and a fire.

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At 4:08 a.m., 19 minutes after they responded, the firefighters were met with gunfire. Rosa was killed. Firefighter Ernesto Torres was injured.

Prosecutors said Thomas Kim, a 77-year-old resident, set off an explosive device in an apparent attempt to kill a female neighbor with whom he had been feuding and then shot the responding firefighters. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has charged Kim with one count of murder, one count of attempted murder of a firefighter, two counts of attempted murder and one count each of arson of an inhabited structure and explosion with intent to murder.

At his funeral Tuesday, family members, friends and colleagues lamented the loss of a big, gregarious man — a man of faith who cherished his family, loved his Los Angeles Dodgers and couldn’t resist a good barbecue.

This week, Rosa was supposed to be at Yosemite National Park for his biennial trip with his family, said his brother-in-law, Chris Hensley, a Carlsbad firefighter.

On Tuesday, the family would have been hiking, Hensley said. He was known to sit by the campfire, telling stories, using his hands as he animatedly spoke.

“Dave was a great storyteller,” Hensley said. “Maybe the best. He was humble, grounded, faithful and loyal. He was a teacher, and he led by example. But most of all, he was loved, and he knew how to love you back.”

Brian Pancarik, another brother-in-law, said Rosa doted on Lynley, his wife of 19 years, and their two sons. In conversation, Pancarik said, Rosa would “make you feel like you were the only person that mattered to him.”

Pancarik read a Bible verse, Psalm 37:23: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in his way.”

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“David was a good man,” Pancarik said, choking up.

Family friend Cherise Matthews said that every time she asked someone if he or she knew Rosa, they’d respond: “I love that guy.”

Rosa, who lived in San Juan Capistrano, coached his boys in baseball and was a passionate umpire who was playfully teased by his wife when he put on his bulky uniform, Matthews said. Even when parents shouted and heckled from the stands and Lynley clanked a cowbell, he wouldn’t get distracted during games because he took the role so seriously.

“Even though he became a hero to the world, what Dave taught me was that you just need to be a hero to the person in front of you … that every single individual relationship in your life matters,” Matthews said.

Long Beach Fire Chief Mike DuRee said Rosa would stand during briefings with his head cocked, one eye squinted. The first time he saw “the Rosa stink eye,” DuRee thought Rosa was angry, but he just chuckled, saying that intense look helped him focus.

“The dude was funny,” DuRee said.

Fire Capt. Jeff Hardin, who teased his friend and colleague for having “lacked a little discipline in the doughnut and cake department,” said Rosa had an infectious laugh but would immediately switch off the humor and be serious when duty called.

As a tribute to Rosa’s service, a firefighter in white gloves rang a silver bell near his casket. It was the fire captain’s last alarm.

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hailey.branson@latimes.com

Twitter: @haileybranson


UPDATES:

2:40 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with new details and quotes..

This article was originally published at 10:10 a.m.


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