The City of Ceres, California was incorporated in 1918. In the 86 year history of the City their police department had not lost an officer killed in The Line of Duty.
On the evening of January 9, 2005, that all changed. Officers Sam Ryno (49), a twenty year veteran of the Ceres P.D., accompanied by a trainee, responded to a call of a suspicious person armed with a rifle acting strangely in front of a local liquor store. Upon their arrival at the scene, Officer Ryno and his partner were met with a hail of gunfire from an SKS assault rifle. It was an ambush. Officer Ryno was severely wounded, but his partner escaped uninjured.
Responding to an urgent call for assistance, Sgt. Howard “Howie” Stevenson (39) an eighteen-year veteran of the Department was also ambushed and met with a hail of gunfire from an assault rifle upon his arrival at the scene. Sgt. Stevenson died almost instantly from bullet wounds to his upper body. Officer Ryno was transported to the Memorial Medical Center where his condition was described as “critical, but stable”. His prognosis for recovery was described as “good”.
A CHP helicopter, SWAT teams and officers from virtually every agency surrounding the City of Ceres converged on the scene. A massive manhunt for the shooter was mounted. A one-mile square area of the City was cordoned off and a house-to-house search for the suspect began.
Shortly before midnight, the suspect, later identified as Andres Raya (19), a U.S. Marine on leave from Camp Pendleton, but a known gang member, jumped a fence and confronted a number of officers in an alley. Gunfire was exchanged and Raya was hit several times and pronounced dead at the scene. None of the officers were injured.
Following the tragic events of January 9 the members of the Ceres P.D. and numerous residents of the small, tight knit community were in a state of shock. More than one observed that “losing a member of our police department is like losing a member of our own family”. Sgt. “Howie” Stevenson was remembered affectionately by his fellow officers as a role model and mentor to younger officers, “a Cops’ Cop”.
On the morning of January 18, more than 2,000 mourners, mostly peace offices from jurisdictions statewide and from as far away as Boise, Idaho gathered at the First Baptist Church in Modesto to pay their final respects to a fallen hero.
Chief Art De Werk eulogized “Howie” Stevenson in glowing terms and concluded his remarks with “and to you Howie: Secure your gun and hang up your duty belt. You’ve made the difficult sacrifice as a hero, dying in the service of your fellow man. You are cleared of your watch”.
A mile long procession of police cars, motorcycles, fire engines and ambulances escorted the cremated remains of Sgt. “Howie” Stevenson to a final resting-place in Lakewood Memorial Park, Hughson.
In honor of a fallen hero flags that fly over the State Capitol were being flown at half-staff, as were the flags in the City of Ceres and Stanislaus County.
“Howie” leaves a wife Kathy, daughters Megan and Mikeala and a son Bryce.
A trust fund has been established for the Stevenson family. Contributions can be made at any West America Bank, reference Account No. 2219-01984-8