A day to honor Newport Beach police started before dawn Thursday when about 200 friends, family members and public safety workers gathered around 4 a.m. to mark the time and place where a local officer was gunned down on the job 20 years ago.
On March 12, 1995, Officer Bob Henry tried to wrest a gun from a man who was trying to commit suicide near Dover Drive and 16th Street. A struggle began and the man shot Henry and himself, police said.
It was what Newport Beach Police Chief Jay Johnson called “every police officer’s worst nightmare.”
Henry, 30, never regained consciousness. He died 33 days later, just weeks after the birth of his daughter, the youngest of three children, Johnson said.
The chief told Henry’s story Thursday at the Police Appreciation Breakfast that the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce has presented for 44 years.
This year, by coincidence, the event was on the 20th anniversary of Henry’s shooting.
Johnson asked the fallen officer’s family to stand amid the crowd gathered for breakfast at the Hyatt Regency hotel, a few hours after the early-morning ceremony where dignitaries laid wreaths at what is now called Bob Henry Park.
“Please know that your son is a hero in all of our eyes,” Johnson told Henry’s mother, Lois, before guests interrupted him with a standing ovation.
Johnson and other officials also recognized recent achievements, as they do each year at the breakfast.
The chief hung medals around the necks of officers like David Sarega, who cleared the airway of a 4-month-old boy who had stopped breathing, saving him.
Detectives Joshua Comte, Elijah Hayward and Jeffrey Perkins earned Awards of Merit, partly for an investigation that started with a marijuana bust but ended up unraveling a large-scale human-trafficking operation that was lucrative enough for the perpetrators to afford a Maserati, Bentley, BMW and Porsche.
The breakfast also recognized exemplary day-to-day efforts with awards for the volunteer, supervisor, civilian employee, reserve officer and officer of the year.
As the honorees took the stage, they passed a pair of officers keeping watch over an empty place setting occupied only by Henry’s hat. The officers stared downward, covering their eyes with the brims of their own hats.
Across the Back Bay in Bob Henry Park, a similar honor guard stood throughout the day where the officer was fatally wounded two decades before.
Police Appreciation Breakfast honorees
Officer Randall Parker Jr. — Officer of the Year
Sgt. David Miner — Supervisor of the Year
Community Services Officer Emily Bledstein — Civilian of the Year
Reserve Officer Dennis Hoo — Reserve Officer of the Year
Martin Flink — Volunteer of the Year
Det. Joshua Comte — Award of Merit
Det. Elijah Hayward — Award of Merit
Det. Jeffrey Perkins — Award of Merit
Officer Robert Hufford — Lifesaving Award
Officer Dallas Lopez — Lifesaving Award (two)
Officer David Sarega — Lifesaving Award
Sgt. Eric Little — Lifesaving Award
Officer David Mock — Lifesaving Award