WASCO, Calif. (KGET) — Monday marks a year since a Kern County sheriff’s deputy died in an intense firefight, trading his life for those of hostages held by a heavily armed gunman.
The unselfish courage of Philip Campas left his name and his badge number – 1392 — etched into Kern County’s history.
“He was a star in our organization,” said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood. “When you talk about police officers who run toward gunfire, that’s him.”
It was one of the deadliest confrontations in Kern County history. It started on July 25, 2021, just after 1 p.m. with a call to 9-1-1.
Sheriff’s deputies were called to a home in Wasco for reports of shots fired. That’s where 41-year-old Jose Manuel Ramirez Jr. held his family hostage after an argument.
His son’s wife was outside when she heard gunfire and called the police.
“When I walk in the house I notice that Jose was on the floor. with the back of his head open,” said Sarai Ramirez who was widowed after the shooting. “He was bleeding out and at the moment I knew there was nothing I could do anymore.”
Jose Ramirez III was dead. His mother and brother lay wounded, trapped inside the house with Jose Ramirez Jr. who was heavily armed.
“As they approached the front door, the suspect began shooting at the deputies with a rifle,” Youngblood said.
Video shows officers running into position, some, retreating behind an armored vehicle during the hours-long standoff. No deputies were hit during the first hail of bullets. But hundreds of shots followed.
The SWAT team was summoned. Deputy Campas, 35, who was off duty and at home that Sunday afternoon, answered the call.
He was a Marine veteran and had been with the sheriff’s office for five years. That day, he led the team that fought its way towards the house to rescue victims.
“Officer down! Officer down!” sounded over police radios.
Two deputies were hit.
Dramatic video from a neighbor shows emergency crews helping Campas into an ambulance. He died at Kern Medical.
SWAT officer Dizander Guerrero also was shot but survived.
Three hours after the shooting and five hours into the standoff, Ramirez climbed onto the roof of the house.
“An additional officer-involved shooting occurred and the suspect was struck,” said Lt. Joel Swanson with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. “The suspect was removed from the roof and received medical aid, but was pronounced dead at the scene.”
First responders recovered an AK47-style rifle and a handgun from Ramirez’s body.
In all, five people died that afternoon, including Ramirez’s wife and two sons were dead. But two women and two young girls were rescued.
That evening, officers with dozens of agencies formed an honor guard at Kern Medical saluting, and placing Campas’ flag-draped body into a hearse.
“I was there with the wife and the mother and the father. We just felt we needed to wait,” Youngblood said with tears in his eyes.
“Phil sacrificed his life doing what he always does, leading from the front,” said Seth Caridi, a friend of Campas. “Not a day will go by that I won’t think of him. Not a second will go by that I won’t miss him. To the greatest marine, the greatest warrior, the greatest friend, and the greatest man I will ever know. I will see you on the other side.”
“I love you. Goodbye, brother.”