Hundreds of beach city residents and law enforcement personnel from agencies far and wide honored the memory of Manhattan Beach Police Officer Chad Swanson on Friday evening, Oct. 6.
The somber ceremony — which began at the city’s Civic Center downtown and proceeded on foot to the Manhattan Beach Pier — brought out city officials, police officers from neighboring cities, religious leaders and family members.
Swanson died almost six years to the day after he rescued victims from the Route 91 Harvest music festival mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017.
Friday’s vigil and pier walk was reminiscent of the one the city held that same year for two community members who perished during one of the worse mass shootings in the U.S.
The hour-long ceremony Friday was a fitting tribute to the 35-year-old officer and father of three young boys who died early Wednesday, Oct. 4, after a car collided with his police motocycle on the 405 freeway.
Before the ceremony, Councilmember Amy Howorth said it was important city leaders be there for the police department, for all city employees and especially for Swanson’s family.
“It’s very sad, heartbreaking,” Howorth added, “There really aren’t good words.”
Four of Swanson’s fellow MBPD officers spoke at the ceremony at Civic Center Plaza: Capt. Andrew Enriquez and Officers Kyle McCammon, Donovan Torres and Mike Lynch.
Enriquez remembered Swanson as mature beyond his years. He was honest and owed up to his mistakes quickly, Enriquez said.
“And despite our age difference and eventual difference in ranks, Chad and I became and remained friends,” Enriquez said.
The two friends celebrated many occasions together, including birthdays, gender reveals and Christmas parties.
Enriquez said Swanson was generous, but “never wanted recognition for his kindness or his generosity.”
Just last week, during an event at the police station, Enriquez said when Swanson saw Enriquez’s wife struggling to get through the back door, he turned around, got off his bike, and helped her inside, Enriquez said, holding back tears.
Lynch met Swanson about 13 years ago when the two began as new officers at the department, he said.
“Chad was gravity and had an uncanny ability to pull people together for simple things,” Lynch said.
He held parties at his house to celebrate events, and coordinated group vacations, because “everyone wanna be there with him. His voice was like thunder, and in any given room you would know he was present,” Lynch said. “You would hear him.”
Pastor Zac Luben, director of Student Convocation at Pepperdine University, delivered an opening prayer while the Rev. John Higgins, a recently retired Catholic priest from Downey, performed a closing prayer. Community members then picked up electric candles and processed to the base of the Manhattan Beach Pier via 14th Street.
The loss of Swanson was particularly poignant as the 13-year MBPD officer was known as fun-loving, jovial and always ready with a smile, said MBPD Chief Rachel Johnson.
Johnson gave the closing remarks Friday before a moment of silence, surrounded by candlelight, at the base of the Pier.
“If I have to pick a person who embodies the spirit of Manhattan Beach Police Department, it was Chad,” said Johnson. “We like to say we are the best of the best, and with Chad, we definitely got it right.”
In addition to his joyful demeanor and love for his family, Swanson was also a hero.
Swanson was in the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017 when a gunman opened fire from a broken-out window of the former Mandalay Bay hotel overlooking the site.
Shortly after the incident, Swanson, described a scene of whizzing bullets and chaos unfolding in Las Vegas in a wide-open venue where there was no place to take cover.
That mass shooting hit Manhattan Beach hard, taking the young lives of two. Rachael Parker, 33, a Manhattan Beach police records technician, was killed in the shooting. Another beloved member of the Manhattan Beach community, Sandy Casey, 35, a special education teacher at Manhattan Beach Middle School, also lost her life.
After one of the worst mass shootings in the U.S, during a press conference, Swanson said he just wanted to help as many people as he could.
Despite catching a bullet fragment in the arm, Swanson still went back and forth carrying people to safety and applying tourniquets.
“At a certain point, we realized that there were no more people in the concert venue that were alive that we could help,” Swanson said at the time. “We canvassed the whole area to make sure we didn’t miss anybody.”
“I just wanted to try to help as many people as I could,” Swanson said at the time.
During his short career, in 2016, Swanson also received a Lifesaving Award for inserting his fingers into the wound of a burglar who sliced open an artery when he punched and broke a window of a business.
Law enforcement employees from around the South Bay pitched in to ensure their Manhattan Beach counterparts had Friday evening to grieve.
Redondo Fire Chief Patrick Butler said the police/fire departments around the area, his included, took 911 calls for Manhattan Beach police so the city could hold the vigil without worrying about interruption.
After the vigil, Higgins, one of the religious leaders who spoke told the Southern California News Group that he had known Swanson since he was 16. Swanson was a student at Saint Raymond parish school in Downey, he said.
Swanson had a wild, wonderful, great sense of humor and sense of service and was always doing things for other people, Higgins said.
Swanson was “in a good sense, a rascal,” Higgins recalled.
“He was always doing something that was unexpected,” Higgins said. Adding that Swanson always “broke up the class with laughter in the middle of everything.”
The young officer began his career in law enforcement with the Hawthorne Police Department before moving to Manhattan Beach Police in 2010. In 2017, the year of the Route 91 shooting, Swanson became a motorcycle officer.
Swanson is survived by his wife and three boys, ages 4, 2 and 10 months.
The Manhattan Beach Police Officers’ Association (MBPOA) has created a donation fund for the Swanson family via the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) Fund a Hero Program.
As of late Friday, the fund had already reached nearly $150,000.
Describing Swanson as intelligent and hardworking, Johnson summed up the community’s sentiments at the end of the ceremony.
“We are not the same without him,” Johnson said.
Staff Writer Josh Cain contributed to this report.