Riverside Police Officer Remembered For 'Biggest Smile' And Fulfilling His Dreams

Thousands Turned Out To Remember Officer Ryan Bonaminio

POSTED: 09:10 AM PDT Sep 27, 2011    UPDATED: 02:04 AM PST Nov 16, 2010 
RIVERSIDE -

Friends and family of slain Riverside police Officer Ryan Patrick Bonaminio paid their final respects today, remembering the 27-year- old as a guy with the "biggest smile" who did his duty proudly and fulfilled his dreams.

"Ryan knew from an early age that he was supposed to be a police officer," Riverside police Chief Sergio Diaz told the several thousand mourners gathered for a memorial service at Grove Community Church. "Everything he did was purposeful and pointed toward that goal. What a fortunate young man he was ... Ryan will never doubt what he was here for."

Bonamino was gunned down Nov. 7 as he tried to catch a suspected truck thief in Fairmount Park, according to police.

The Riverside County District Attorney's Office filed murder and other charges Monday against 44-year-old Earl Ellis Green, whose record includes more than a dozen arrests.

Law enforcement officers from across the country, along with Bonaminio's family, friends and members of the community, honored the four-year police veteran, whose 28th birthday would've been on Thanksgiving.

His flag-draped coffin rested just under the church pulpit, with a Riverside police honor guard standing watch.

More than 1,700 people were seated in the church, with an overflow crowd of several thousand more watching the service on monitors outside.

"It is overwhelming. Ryan is looking down right now, saying, `Is all this for me?"' said his mother, Gerri Bonaminio. "I told Ryan many years ago that he was my hero, and he would make a mark in this world, and he has, which I can see by the love and respect and caring everybody has for him."

Bonaminio spent more than four years in the U.S. Army, serving two tours of duty in Iraq with a military police unit.

One of his comrades, Sgt. Doug Spencer, recalled Bonaminio as a good friend and a "loyal, dedicated" soldier.

"Having Ryan watching my back is what brought me home," Spencer said. "We were sleeping in the sand, without showers, eating MREs. It was horrible. But Ryan was walking around with the biggest smile on his face. I never understood it then. But that was his way to support me and other troops."

Staff Sgt. Kevin Duxbury, one of Bonaminio's platoon leaders, recalled that the then-20-year-old, who loved GI Joe figures and playing video games, never hesitated to volunteer for escort missions across Iraqi highways notorious for deadly attacks by insurgents.

"Ryan brought personality to the platoon," Duxbury said. "He was always smiling, always thumbs-up. He filled in the dents of pain and misery of Iraq by bringing us cheer."

The fallen officer's Marine Corps JROTC instructor from Ramona High School, retired Sgt. Maj. David Henry, said he recognized that even as a teenager, Bonaminio was "different."

"He had so much discipline. Any uniform he wore was immaculate," Henry said.

Choking back tears, the sergeant major said he had recently run into his former charge, and the two had agreed to have Bonaminio come and speak to the high school's newest cadets. That meeting had been scheduled for tomorrow.

Joe Bonaminio said his son rose to every challenge.

"Last Sunday (when he was killed), my son didn't let his family down. He didn't let the city of Riverside down. He didn't let the Army down. And he didn't let his country down -- period," he said.

Bonamino hoped his son's loss would not be a deterrent for those considering law enforcement as a career.

"Have pride every morning you put that uniform on," he said.

Bonaminio's remains were borne to Riverside National Cemetery, where a burial service was held.

Investigators indicated that Green may have used the officer's own sidearm to kill him. District Attorney Rod Pacheco told reporters Monday that Bonaminio pleaded for his life.

It was unclear how authorities knew Bonaminio pleaded for his life -- if had an audio recorder running or if his radio microphone may have been open.

Court records show that Green has convictions going back 20 years, including for battery on a police officer in 1990.

His latest conviction, in 2007, was for vandalism, and he was sentenced to three years in prison. He could have faced even more time, but the judge dismissed several of his prior convictions.

Pacheco described the judicial system's handling of the ex-con -- who served half of the aggregate time to which he'd been sentenced over the years -- as an example of "a system that failed."

Bonaminio was the first Riverside police officer to be killed in the line of duty since January 2001. The Riverside native joined the police force in 2006 while still in the Army reserves.