A young man stands on the beach, before breaking waves and alongside his new fiancée. He holds her hand so all the world can see her engagement ring. They’re both smiling broadly, full of hope and promise.
The optimism of that moment, shared just last week on Instagram, disintegrated in an instant Saturday evening, when an unknown attacker shot and killed the groom-to-be, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer.
The 30-year-old lawman, a third-generation member of the Sheriff’s Department, was shot to death as he sat in his patrol car at a traffic signal in front of the department’s Palmdale station. There was no apparent motive. A suspect has not been identified.
Colleagues described Clinkunbroomer as the smart and dependable type, a “deputy’s deputy” assigned to teach others how to do the job the right way. He loved his work and the people he worked with, his colleagues said, and he aimed to be a detective one day.
“It’s not easy to become a training officer,” said veteran Deputy Andrew Cronin. “You have to go through a testing process, have some tenure in the department and some smarts — and Ryan fit that.”
Cronin, who worked with Clinkunbroomer’s father, Michael, said the two men were a lot alike. “His dad was very approachable as a sergeant, very likable,” Cronin said. “He was like the spitting image of his dad’s personality. He was always cool and calm and handled each situation in that manner.”
Deputy William Warner, who trained the younger Clinkunbroomer, called him “a joy to work with.” He said the young deputy’s determination to follow in his father‘s and grandfather’s footsteps was evident in his work ethic.
“He just wanted to do the best that he could do,” Warner said, “and do his small part to make a difference in the best way that he could.”
Clinkunbroomer also had an easy humor. Warner remembered chiding him as one of the few Miami Dolphins fans he knew. When Warner asked the younger deputy when he would switch his allegiance to the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, Clinkunbroomer had a preferred response: “The 49ers suck, sir.”
On Saturday evening, after a passerby discovered the wounded deputy in his car, emergency crews rushed Clinkunbroomer to Antelope Valley Medical Center in Lancaster, where he died. Hours later, deputies wheeled Clinkunbroomer’s flag-enshrouded body to a van, which transported him to the county medical examiner’s office east of downtown Los Angeles.
With sirens blaring and lights flashing, a motorcade of dozens of police and fire vehicles accompanied the body on the 70-mile journey. Along some overpasses en route, police and firefighters stood at attention, saluting.
“Deputy Sheriff Ryan Clinkunbroomer and his family are an integral part of the very essence of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department,” said a statement from the Assn. of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. “And this heart-wrenching murder cuts to the very core of our being.
“No words can adequately express the profound condemnation we feel for the cowards who committed this heinous act.”
Said Cronin, who has served 27 years with the department: “It’s unfathomable. He wasn’t doing anything except minding his own business.”
Grieving for the young deputy extended well beyond the ranks of law enforcement, to the community and friends, including schoolmates from West Ranch High School in Stevenson Ranch.
“He always wanted to serve the community,” Bailey Miller, a high school friend, said on NBC4 News on Sunday.
Miller, a reporter with the station, added her personal comments to her report on Clinkunbroomer’s death. She said the two had both been members of the high school track and field team and cross-country team, part of a group of about eight close friends. Remembering the friend she called “Clink,” she called him “a good man and a true hero.”
“I always hoped I would run into him in the field while I was working. … Here I am today,” Miller said, her voice choked with emotion.
Members of the deputy’s family said they weren’t prepared to talk Sunday. But Clinkunbroomer had shared with his co-workers how much he cared for his family, his excitement about getting married (“He was madly in love with his fiancée,” Warner said) and his desire to have children.
Announcing her son’s engagement on Instagram last week, Kim Clinkunbroomer said, “We are so excited to add to our family.”
The deputy who trained the fallen lawman made clear the high pitch of emotions inside the Sheriff’s Department. “I hope we can lift Ryan up,” Warner said, “and focus on supporting his family and finding the cowards responsible for this.”
Times staff writer Dorany Pineda contributed to this report.