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Remembering Kevin Tonn

Family of fallen Galt K-9 officer has found comfort in their faith and support from around the country

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Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 12:00 am

On one wrist, Mary Ann Tonn wears a braided black leather bracelet with her only son’s name engraved onto a metal nameplate. On the other, she wears a blue rubber bracelet in his memory.

The lapel pin and mini police badge that hangs from a necklace around her neck are small outward mementos of a life cut short.

But it’s inside where Mary Ann Tonn, her husband Will Tonn and their daughter Julie Carnesi carry their true feelings for Galt Police Officer Kevin Tonn and those he touched before he was killed in the line of duty a year ago today.

The family credits their faith in God for keeping them not only grounded, but at peace over the events that January day.

The couple was at home in the Roseville area when they received a phone call from Will Tonn’s brother, Ed, retired law enforcement himself. His son, Galt Police Officer Jarrett Tonn, had called his father to alert the family that there had been a shooting during a burglary call.

Kevin Tonn, 35, was being transported to a Sacramento County hospital, where he later died. The man who shot him had killed himself.

Suddenly, the Tonn family was surrounded by people who cared, many of them people the Tonns had never met — people who would become their friends.

“From day one, we realized just how big my family got,” said Will Tonn, holding back tears. “We suddenly had membership in an elite club you never want to join.”

Galt Police Officer Sylvia Coehlo was assigned to be the family’s liaison. She was joined by county law enforcement chaplains Frank and Mindy Russell.

The Concerns of Police Survivors national organization called Carnesi that night, explaining that they needed to talk to her parents. Northern California chapter representatives Tami McMillan and Stephanie Miller would handle all of the funeral logistics because, as Carnesi said, “When this happens, you don’t have a choice to have a small funeral.”

Indeed, Kevin Tonn was remembered in an hour-long funeral ceremony attended by thousands of uniformed police officers and dozens of K-9 teams from around the country. Among them were a volunteer firefighter and his daughter, who drove from Tennessee to remember Kevin. They had been like his family when he lived in New York.

The Tonns said the community’s outreach was amazing, starting with an on-site vigil the day after the incident and growing into a Galt-based organization known as CHAMP, which is working to erect a memorial in Kevin Tonn’s honor. It will also commemorate future community heroes who may lose their lives.

Although today will be sad, the family said it’s the days like one last week, when Kevin’s sister was retiling her fireplace with his old wet saw and discovered missing parts, that they miss him the most.

“You can’t call Kevin and ask,” she said.

How are they?

“We are doing well, better than most people, probably,” Carnesi said of fellow families who have lost loved ones in the line of duty. “I almost feel guilty about that.”

She credits the family’s faith, strong ties to a Roseville church and support groups for survivors of police officers, as well as her young children for being a welcome diversion.

The six — Carnesi, her parents, her children and her husband, Chris — traveled throughout 2013 to honor Kevin, including to a special San Francisco Giants baseball game where they threw out the first pitch.

Carnesi and her parents have also attended retreats sponsored by COPS.

This May, they will go to Washington, D.C., where Kevin’s name will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

In the past year, the family has also learned things about their son they didn’t know from people all over the country.

“There was so much we didn’t know about him,” Will Tonn said. “He was very giving. That’s the side we really didn’t know. You hope you raise your kids right, but you never know.”

Kevin Tonn went to high school in Roseville, where he rode his bicycle through fields that would later become the Roseville Galleria shopping mall and Adventure Church, where his funeral was held. He also used to collect telephone insulators, and sold his collection to the Roseville Telephone Museum.

Kevin Tonn worked for a local plumbing company before joining the U.S. Army, where he was a military officer and medic for several years. He was stationed in New York, where he became a civilian firefighter before moving back to California. He graduated from the police academy and joined the Galt Police Department in 2009.

When he wasn’t volunteering for extra shifts at the Galt Police Department, he had a side business working on houses. While in New York, he restored a 100-year-old home.

The family wasn’t surprised by his love for tinkering. After all, when he and his sister were little, Kevin would opt to watch “This Old House” over cartoons.

He worked at a Grass Valley church camp doing manual labor one summer. Another summer, he mowed neighbors’ lawns after they complimented his parents about how great their front yard looked. He was 10.

At 13, his dad’s friend hired him to help build an addition to his house, from the framing to the plumbing. Kevin was paid $6 an hour, and did so well that he got a dollar raise.

Kevin Tonn also took younger neighborhood kids on mountain bike rides up into the hills of Placer County.

“He was always the overseer, and the parents trusted him,” Will Tonn said.

It’s no wonder that he became not only a police officer keeping others safe, but also a K-9 officer. After all, he was also a dog lover early on.

Carnesi remembers Brownie, a dachshund who followed her brother home from the park one day. When no one claimed him, the dog stayed with the family.

Moving forward

After losing a child so young, if there’s anything Kevin’s parents could convey to the public, it’s to have your affairs in order — especially if you have a high-risk job. It’s something Mary Ann Tonn believes should be completed upon police academy graduation.

And what about Yaro, Kevin’s police dog who was retired from the department? He lives with Jarrett Tonn’s family and two other German shepherds. Will Tonn jokes that the dog has forgotten all of his police commands.

Despite his son’s death, Will Tonn said he would never discourage anyone from becoming a police officer.

“Kevin was killed doing what he loved,” he said.

The family holds no ill will against the man who killed their son, instead blaming it on sin in the suspect’s heart.

“I know God allowed this to happen. He didn’t make it happen — he allowed it to,” said Mary Ann Tonn, who carries Bible scripture in her purse that brings her comfort.

She said believing in Jesus has given them all peace.

“He gives us the strength to carry on and bear the burdens we have,” she said. “The thought that Christ gave his only son ... that doesn’t mean his heart wasn’t broken.”

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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