Julie Jacobson / AP
Published Monday, July 29, 2013 | 3:15 p.m.
Updated Monday, July 29, 2013 | 5:12 p.m.
A life filled with dedication, discipline and a devotion to others was celebrated today in moving ceremonies that mourned the death of a Metro Police officer.
During the funeral for David Vanbuskirk, 36, family and fellow officers heaped praise on the officer who died a week ago in a fall during the rescue of a stranded hiker on Mount Charleston.
The day’s ceremonies began at 9 a.m. as a police motorcade escorted Vanbuskirk’s flag-draped casket from Palm Mortuary downtown to the Central Christian Church in Henderson for visitation and the funeral. The motorcade's route included the Las Vegas Strip, where casinos honored Vanbuskirk on their marquees.
At the funeral, speakers shared their shock at the death of Vanbuskirk, a Metro Search and Rescue officer who was killed last week when he fell from a hoist cable attached to a helicopter while rescuing a hiker on Mount Charleston.
Sgt. Gavin Vesp was part of the team that retrieved Vanbuskirk’s body and spoke movingly of his fallen comrade.
“I remember helping him close his eyes for the last time and I want everyone to know that David was at peace and that being on that mountain that night was the greatest honor of my life,” Vesp said.
Several speakers remarked that Vanbuskirk was a product of his devoted family, whom he loved immeasurably.
Fellow officers told of Vanbuskirk’s drive to help and how he sacrificed hours to teach classes, earn his paramedic license and study to improve as an officer.
Early on he soaked in knowledge from mentors, and soon people started seeking advice from him, said Sheriff Doug Gillespie.
Gillespie likened this change to Robin becoming another Batman.
Before Vanbuskirk died, he had his sights set on becoming a sergeant on the Metro force. He recently aced the written exam, Gillespie said.
“A life is often measured by the goodwill we leave behind, by the deeds that were done, and by that measure David was exceptional,” Gillespie said.
Vesp said he recently spoke with people who had been rescued or treated by Vanbuskirk. What Vesp found were stories that were all different but had a similar theme: People were struck by Vanbuskirk’s compassion and sincerity, he said.
The funeral was broadcast on several local television stations and streamed live on the Internet. Close to 3,000 people were in attendance. The church's main auditorium, which seats 2,900, was near capacity, said Ryan Moore, communications director at Central Christian Church. People crowded in the church's coffee shops, lobby and overflow rooms and watched the ceremony on 50-inch televisions scattered around the church. others crowded the double doors to try to peek in and get a look at the ceremony. Moore estimated about 100 people were standing.
In addition to Vanbuskirk's Metro colleagues, officers from many different agencies were there including the FBI, Secret Service and local forces, such as North Las Vegas and Henderson Police, Moore said.
“It was a very emotional service. Just as the guys talked about his life and also the legacy that he left it was very encouraging to know that men like that protect us,” Moore said.
The service included a montage of Metro’s Search and Rescue unit that featured Vanbuskirk.
In the video Vanbuskirk told how the nature of the dangerous job demanded trust and made the team like a family. His fellow officers echoed the familial sentiment. Officers choked up at times, but also laughed while sharing stories of the good times they’d had with Vanbuskirk.
Vesp noted he didn’t believe Vanbuskirk would want people dwelling on why the crew was out on Mount Charleston on the night of his death. Every time a Search and Rescue helicopter goes out, the crew is in danger, Vesp said. It was a reality Vanbuskirk knew. It was a sacrifice he was willing to make because he loved saving people, Vesp said.
Afer the funeral a second police motorcade escorted Vanbuskirk’s body to Palm Mortuary and Cemetery, 7600 S. Eastern Ave., for a graveside service with traditional police honors that included a 21-gun salute and a flyover.
Shortly after 3:30 p.m., emergency dispatchers sent out a call to all Metro officers: "Officer David Vanbuskirk … May he rest in peace. Secure. Final."