After 27 years patrolling the streets of Whittier, Keith Boyer had more than earned the right to a relaxing assignment.
But that wasn't Boyer, a consummate officer who got up each morning happy to interact with the citizens he was sworn to protect, according to those who knew him best. By turns determined and goofy, Boyer could be stone serious while on patrol, but he also carried around a set of fake teeth, rarely missing an opportunity to pop them out for a laugh.
It was that combination that made Boyer especially adept at connecting with children, Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper said. Two years ago, when Boyer was working as a community schools officer, he came across a young girl who had a strained relationship with her family, Piper said. The young girl wanted to enter a writing contest, but the idea of reading in front of an audience made her nervous.
Boyer promised to provide her with some "backup," and made sure the crowd was dotted with uniformed officers on the day of the contest, Piper said.
"Keith was Mr. Positive," Piper said from the pulpit of Calvary Chapel in Downey on Friday. "He loved his job. He loved his colleagues. He loved his community."
Thousands of police officers, local residents and family members gathered Friday morning to say goodbye to Boyer, a popular and driven police officer who was shot and killed while responding to a car accident Feb. 20. Boyer was at least the fifth officer shot and killed in the line of duty in California in the last six months, but the first Whittier officer to die on duty in 37 years.
"I cannot find the words to adequately describe the magnitude of our loss, which transcends Keith's family, the entire law enforcement community and his friends," Piper said. "In his nearly 27 years as a police officer, Keith remained completely committed to his profession."
Bagpipes wailed early Friday morning as an honor guard escorted Boyer's flag-draped casket into the chapel, where more than 3,000 police chiefs, officers and deputies and other mourners had squeezed into pews.
Whittier police officers removed their hats and bowed their heads as Boyer's coffin came to rest just a few feet away from the gloves and hat he wore on duty.
"As I see the badges out there, I see heroes," Pastor James Kaddis said. "When you come against law enforcement, you come against God."
A drum set was placed on one side of the church, a tribute to the fallen musician who played in several area bands including Mrs. Jones' Revenge, a Temecula-based classic-rock tribute group that performed at wineries and weddings. Piper joked that the officer was kind enough to perform alongside less talented ensembles, like the one in which the chief played guitar.
Boyer's children, who offered their forgiveness to accused killer Michael Mejia, also performed a rendition of "Amazing Grace" during the service, in tribute to their father.
"My father was courageous not only in his final moments but always," said Joseph Boyer, adding that the officer hated sitting behind a desk, preferring instead to be out in his community.
The hardworking family man also had a silly side, often dazzling relatives with magic tricks when they were younger. When his family opened his safe after his death, they found a box filled with the props he used to pull off each gag.
Retired Whittier Officer Mike Karson, a friend of Boyer's for 30 years, described the slain officer as "the kindest, sweetest, most gentle man you'd ever meet."
Boyer, Karson said, was the ultimate team player, always helping others and always working extra hours without complaint.
Boyer and Officer Patrick Hazell were responding to the scene of a car crash Feb. 20 when they came across Mejia, a 26-year-old convicted felon, authorities have said. Prosecutors say Mejia shot and killed his cousin, Roy Torres, in East Los Angeles before fleeing to Whittier, where he was involved in the car crash.
Mejia opened fire on the officers once they ordered him to exit his car, wounding Hazell and killing Boyer. Mejia was wounded by return fire, and has been charged with two counts of capital murder. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether he will face the death penalty.
Boyer joined the department in 1989 as a jailer and dispatcher before being sworn as an officer in 1990. He was the third Whittier police officer slain in the line of duty in the department's 100-year history. The Whittier department includes about 128 sworn officers who patrol the cities of Whittier and Santa Fe Springs in southeastern Los Angeles County.
As Whittier police officers began to arrive Friday, they shook the white-gloved hand of Nicholas Gianesses, a New York City police officer who flew across the country to honor Boyer.
"Thank you," a colleague of Boyer's told the officer, who wore an NYPD dress uniform. "It means so much, brother."
"Even one officer lost is too many," Gianesses replied.
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer James Queally contributed to this report.
4:15 p.m.: This article has been updated with new details from the funeral.
1:10 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from the Whittier police chief.
11:30 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from Boyer's family.
11 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from the Whittier police chief.
9:56 a.m.: This article was updated with details from the church service.
9:10 a.m.: This article was updated with details from outside the Calvary Chapel.