BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Phillip Campas was just 35 when he died attempting to free a hostage, but he had accomplished a lot since his days working long, hot hours at a local tire store as a teen.
Campas, killed in a shootout with the hostage taker Sunday in Wasco, leaves behind a wife, two little girls and a step-son. He leaves behind 27 grieving colleagues on the Kern County Sheriff’s SWAT team and a reputation for fearlessness.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood spoke about Campas at a grim, poignant press conference on Monday.
“He was a star in our organization,” Youngblood said. “When you talk about police officers who run toward gunfire, that’s him.”
Campas also left a legacy of leadership in another organization near and dear to his heart — the Devil Pups, a program for teens that teaches teamwork, toughness and citizenship.
The Devil Pups are based on some of the principals of his beloved U.S. Marine Corps.
Campas knew more than a little about the Marines, having served for a decade — a time that included deployment to Afghanistan.
Dick Taylor, local liaison for the Devil Pups, hired Campas as a teen 20 years ago to work at his business, Taylor Tire and Brake.
“When he was in Afghanistan,” Taylor said, “he brought back a flag that had been flown over the battalion headquarters in Afghanistan that still hangs on our wall here.”
Taylor knew Campas as a tough guy who commanded respect but also as a man who couldn’t always hide his gentle soul.
“It’s hard to hide dimples when you smile,” he said, “and it’s hard to look mean when you’ve got dimples showing.”
Deputy Julio Garcia, a good friend and a former Marine himself who worked alongside Campas as a member of the Kern County Sheriff’s SWAT team, was in Quantico, Va., on Monday and was not available for comment.
But in a text message shared with KGET by his wife Olivia, Garcia wrote that he “loved him him like a brother” and was “still trying to understand why God needed him sooner in the heavens.”
“Maybe God needed a brave and courageous, honorable soul like Phillip,” Garcia wrote, “to keep people in line down here.”