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'I’m not sure how to continue on': Girlfriend of fallen Arvada officer recalls their time together

Dillon Vakoff, 27, was fatally shot early Sunday morning while responding to a disturbance.

ARVADA, Colo. — A steady stream of law enforcement saluted the casket of Arvada Officer Dillon Vakoff during a service Friday morning where he was remembered for his strong work ethic, infectious laugh, and willingness to go above and beyond in everything he did.

Vakoff, 27, was fatally shot in the early morning hours of Sept. 11 while responding to a disturbance call.

WATCH ABOVE: The full memorial service for Officer Vakoff

“Dillon always said things, such as if things went south, he’d be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for his team,” said Officer Joe Galvez said. “We’d look each other in the eye and only then, would he say you’re going home to your family today. And I trusted it and I believed it and I did.”

Galvez joined the department in 2019 along with Vakoff and said the two became fast friends. He called him a “physical freak” who ran away with the physical fitness award and was known for his workout regimens.

“I’ll remember him for two things,” Galvez said. “His laugh -  and that piece of fabric he considered to be shorts. His laugh is something I cannot describe but I can hear it right now as I speak. It was an infectious laugh. You would hear it from the other room and not help but join in. It was a noise that I’ll never be able to get out of my head and one that I would love to hear again.”

RELATED: Suspect identified in deadly shooting of Arvada officer

Vakoff and another officer initially responded to the 6700 block of West 51st Avenue at about 1:45 a.m. on Sept. 11 and found a chaotic scene with people in the street, Arvada Police said. While the officers tried to separate several "belligerent and uncooperative" people, the suspect, fired shots that hit a female victim, police said.

The officers and the suspect exchanged gunfire. The suspect shot Vakoff and was also shot, police said. The suspect and the woman were both expected to survive.

"Those of you who were with him along with me in the early morning hours of September 11, 2021, he loved and respected all of you," said Lieutenant Paul Carroll who was Vakoff's supervisor. "Console yourself that Dillon spent his last moments in the company of you. He understood and appreciated your desperate efforts to save him and keep him with us." 

Vakoff was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. That's when his girlfriend and fellow officer Megan Esslinger got a phone call in the middle of the night.

“No one tells you how that phone call hits you like a train and all you can do is pray,” Esslinger said. “I received that phone call on September 11, 2022, at 2:15 a.m.”

She said she met Vaokoff about two years earlier during her first day of pre-academy with the Arvada Police Department and recalled that Vakoff was one of the first people to introduce himself. They soon became close and eventually moved in together.

“Our time we had will never be long enough and I’m not sure how to continue on without you,” said Esslinger. “But I will do it. I will do it for you. I will do it for myself. I will do it for everyone in this room because that’s what it means to be a brother and sister in blue. It’s what Dillon would want.”

Vakoff's immediate family did not speak publicly at the service, but Pastor Ben Chavez read a letter from Dillon's mother where she explained a pact the two had made should he die.

"If you died you would die being a heroic lion. I promised you I would accept that choice you made to honor and serve your country, our constitution at all costs, your community fellow teammate, and friends."

Vakoff was the second officer in the department to be killed in the line of duty in just over a year. Officer Gordan Beesley was fatally shot when he was ambushed in June 2021.

"We become accustomed to death in this field, but it's never easy when it's one of our own. We've lost two officers in the span of 15 months. Two generally great human beings," Galvez said.

Vakoff joined the Arvada Police Department in 2019 and was training to be a SWAT officer. 

"Dylan was with us for just three years and had distinguished himself as an outstanding young police officer," said Arvada PD Chief Link Strate. "This man was the epitome of what you want in a police officer and the epitome of what makes this profession noble."

Before becoming an officer, he was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, where he served for six years. He was a resident of Arvada and a 2012 graduate of Ralston Valley High School.

> Watch the full procession:

RELATED: Arvada officer mourned by friends, co-workers and community


Donations

Monetary donations to Vakoff’s family may be made through the Colorado Fallen Hero Foundation at https://bit.ly/OfficerVakoffDonate.

Arvada Police Department Memorial

A patrol vehicle is parked outside the Arvada Police Department at 8101 Ralston Rd. for receiving caring notes and/or other forms of support that the public may want to leave for the Vakoff family.

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