Deputy Jeremiah MacKay was one of the elite members of the Inland Empire Emerald Society: he would play bagpipes at funerals of fallen police officers.
To the rest of the world, MacKay, 35, was one of the brave officers who lost their lives in the search for rogue LAPD officer Christopher Dorner in Big Bear on Feb. 12, 2013.
It is only fitting that bagpipes played at his funeral, attended by thousands.
To San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Detective, Mike Sigfried, MacKay was a “super-fun, obnoxious guy” whom he co-taught weaponless defense and firearms to other officers together.
“Everybody talks about the Dorner case, and how liked MacKay was,” Sigfried told members of the Beaumont-Cherry Valley Rotary Club at their March 13 luncheon. “They talk about his personality, and put him on a pedestal. But they don’t know how funny he was.”
Sigfried explained that, “He died on my watch. He was my friend. I have a responsibility to share his story.”
He briefly recounted the events that fateful day, when MacKay and another officer were injured during a standoff with Dorner.
“It was particularly difficult that we could not immediately approach our officers and give them medical treatment” while the gunfight ensued, Sigfried said.
Andrew Bright, a visitor to Rotary, and whose father, Martin, is president-elect of the club, served as a Marine in Iraq and Africa. He had met MacKay once, at a barbecue.
“It really hits home,” he said after the meeting. “People you live and breathe with — to have your buddies right there for you … I never lost anyone close to me, but my best friend lost his buddy in Iraq, and he’s still dealing with it. It’s a hard thing to deal with.”
Sigfried was Beaumont police commander Greg Fagan’s defensive tactics instructor.
According to Fagan, who is a Rotary member, “You don’t get over it. As a young officer, your colleagues back you up on everything. When I responded” to an incident in 1997 that involved his colleagues, Michael Haugen and Jim Lehmann, Jr. (in 2005, a street in Whitewater was named in their honor).
“The hardest thing was seeing my friends’ bodies exposed and dead, and we couldn’t go in and extract them, as it started to rain,” Fagan said. A day later, that image was blasted on the front page of a regional newspaper, and the image simply never left him.
Fagan was able to relate to Sigfried’s frustration of not being able to go in and rescue his friends.
Staff Writer David James Heiss is involved with the Beaumont-Cherry Valley Rotary Club.