WASCO, Calif. (KGET) — It’s been exactly one year since Kern County Deputy Phillip Campas was killed in the line of duty, answering a SWAT call in Wasco.

For the families of Kern County SWAT Deputy Phillip Campas it’s been an almost unbearable year. But it’s also been a year full of pride, inspiration, and gratitude.

Not just for his remarkable life, but also for the remarkable support he’s received from the community he gave his life defending.

Those have been some of the gifts Campas gave his parents, his widow, his kids. Those are some of the gifts he gave his community, those who knew him and those he never met. Pride, inspiration, gratitude.

When the SWAT team call-out came Campas and his wife Christina were working on a kitchen remodel. He dutifully stopped what he was doing and started assembling his gear. Christina said she would take the interruption as an opportunity to run errands. That elicited from him “I love you” number one, the sort of reminder spouses can’t exchange often enough. They took off in different directions – but Christina heard from her husband once more.

“And he called me on his way and he just said, ‘Hey babe, I just wanted to call you because I’ve been listening to the call out and it sounds like it’s getting pretty intense. So I just wanted to tell you and the kids to know I love you guys,'” Christina said. “He just pretty much told us how much he loved us and he wanted us to know that just in case.”

“And we said, ‘I love you,’ and we said our goodbyes.”

Kern County knows the rest of the story. A Wasco man had barricaded himself in his house and taken his family hostage. 

Over police scanners, a caller was saying, “Oh, I need somebody really quick. There’s someone with a gun in the house.”

He was armed with an AK-47 rifle and a handgun. He was shooting. Lives needed saving.

Campas arrived at First Street and Poplar Street prepared to do what needed to be done. He knew his job and he understood his role.

“He’s a warrior, true and true. Like, he knew,” said KCSO Deputy Julio Garcia, a fellow SWAT officer and close friend. “He got the call, and he knew it’s time to go. And when he got there, they evaluated the situation and there were people that were inside that needed our help.”

“And there was no hesitation,” Garcia added. “They formulated a plan and they went in and they went in to save lives. That was Phillip.”

This SWAT call, though, ended in tragedy. Multiple tragedies. Jose Manuel Ramirez Jr. murdered his own wife and two sons that Sunday afternoon.

Campas had charged the modest yellow house with one thing on his mind – end the crisis. Save the innocent people inside. 

“Not even an hour, an hour and a half later, I got a text that he was hit and I needed to go to the hospital,” Christina said.

In the end, five were dead – including the shooter and Campas — East High School football star, Marine, Afghanistan veteran, Sheriff’s deputy, father, son, husband. 

Seth Caridi, a New York state trooper, was in boot camp with Campas. They were best friends.

“We have a saying all the time: You can either live a coward or die a hero. I know it’s very blunt, but at the end of the day, that’s basically what it’s all about,” Cardi said.

“And he did exactly what he was trained to do,” Christina added.

“That’s pretty much how he lived life – head first,” said Jesse Campas, Phillip’s father.

Jesse and Christina Campas went to Marine Base Camp Pendleton, northern San Diego County, to celebrate one of their son’s passions – Devil Pups, a West Coast organization that gives high school kids a taste of the Marine Corps – the physical stamina, the mental toughness, the focus on team and country.

It was Devil Pups graduation day and the Campases and others including Garcia had to be there. Garcia recruited Campas to join the organization as an instructor five years ago. He still remembers the day Campas first showed up to see what Devil Pups was all about.

“He introduced himself and then he said he was a drill instructor from Parris Island. So me and the other deputies that were working together – and we’re all Marines – we all looked at each other like, ‘Wow, drill instructor? Parris Island?’ Garcia said. “And I was, from there, from that day, I think I was just, like, in awe of him.”

“That very same morning we went out and we started doing our tryouts and, man, he started with that drill instructor voice and from there I think I was bought and sold right there,” Garcia said.

Lucky for those kids they got the Devil Pup version of Campas, not the full-bore drill sergeant of Marine Corps days. 

“He broke you down and then when he taught you or trained you and then he saw the fruits of his labor, that’s when he was the happiest,” Jesse said.

Phillip Campas’s drill instructor persona manifested itself out of uniform too. People were drawn to him.

“He brought life to  – whatever,” Garcia said. “Whatever situation. He was the type of person that you would want to be around. Like  – there’s no way you’re going to walk around and not stop and say something. Or be around him or listen to what he’s got to say. And almost, like, try to be like him.”

Former Marine Dick Taylor has known the Campas family for decades, and he too is deeply involved in the Devil Pups program. He said he caught a little glimpse of Phillip out on the Camp Pendleton parade grounds Saturday.
“It’s encouraging today to see, a year after Phillip’s death, that we still got kids that want to come out here, that want to come go through the program, and be inspired by instructors like Phillip,” Taylor said.

What did Liberty High junior Ethan Grubbs get out of his Devil Pups experience? Service above self.

“I mean, I’m not too concerned with what I do, it’s just more what I can do, you know, for everyone else,” Grubbs said.

Golden Valley High School senior Ailayni Reyes Sarmiento said the ability to summon up courage is borne of a mentality not possessed by everyone.

“I thank the people that can. I hope I can be a person like that,” Sarmiento said. 

Teens getting their first taste of sense of duty aren’t the only ones who can learn from Campas’s example. His comrades can too.

Again, Caridi: “You kind of have a feeling of invincibility, I guess. You try not to worry about things like that. And then obviously, there’s no one more prepared than Phillip. Professionally, tactically, everything. When you hear something like that it does shake you, but I know for a fact he’d be telling me, like, you know, You can’t let this shake you.”

The Campases say over the past year they’ve been overwhelmed with support, affection, admiration. Campas’s mother Christine Campas said she was touched by something Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer told her at a memorial service.

“Those who knew him loved him and those that didn’t know him loved him. And that is just stuck in our heart, in our mind. I repeat that over and over because, you know, the community has surrounded us with love and support,” Christine said. “And I didn’t understand why. He was just a boy that we raised. And he did well. But when she said that, that helped me to understand the love and the support of the community that we thank so much.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank anybody enough and I just wish I could hug everybody,” Campas’s wife Christina said.

“We just want to make sure we say thank you to everybody in Kern County and in Bakersfield especially and the law enforcement community. We really appreciate all your help. You guys gotta stay safe,” Jesse said.

“If he was here right now we would probably be cracking jokes and being over here with the Devil Pups and trying to be instructors. That’s what we do,” Garcia said. “And if he was here right now he’d have that big ole smile on his face and we’d all be happy. I do miss him. I miss his smile. I miss his voice. I wish he was here.”