San Diego officers Kimberly Sue Tonahill, 24, and Timothy J. Ruopp, 31, were shot and killed on Friday, Sept. 14, 1984, while issuing a citation to a man in Balboa Park. Tonahill became the first woman to die in the line of duty in the history of the Department.
At approximately 11 p.m., Ruopp observed a vehicle parked near Balboa Park. There were four people in the car, two men and two young women; identified as Joselito Cinco, 25; Victor Casillas, 23; Gina Hensel, 16; and Dana Andreasen, 15.
The four had met at a nearby convenience store and drove to a house in East San Diego where Cinco went in alone with a black pouch. They then bought whisky and 7-Up from a liquor store and went to Balboa Park. Cinco gave the two girls “crystal” Methedrine from the black pouch. Andreasen’s nose began to bleed from “snorting” the drug and Cinco accompanied her to a bathroom nearby where he told her (after she expressed some fear of gang members) that he was carrying a gun for protection.
Ruopp, who was an ordained minister and very polite, asked the two girls how old they were, and when he learned they were underage, asked the two older men, “Isn’t it a little late for these young ladies to be out this evening? Cinco apologized and offered to drive the girls home, but Ruopp refused since it was apparent that Cinco had been drinking. At this point Ruopp removed the two underage girls from the vehicle and seated them in his police car.
Tonahill, a rookie, arrived on the scene in her patrol car to assist Ruopp, a 2-½ year veteran. He asked her to pat-down Cinco and search his car as he began writing out a misdemeanor citation against Cinco and Casillas for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. During the pat-down (but before the search neared his weapon) the 5-foot 7-inch 140-pound Cinco suddenly pushed Tonahill away, pulled a handgun, and, from a crouch position, fired at her at point-blank range. His first shot hit her between the gap of her bulletproof vest underneath her armpit. He continued pumping bullets into her as she slumped to the ground.
A Department representative reported that Tonahill and Ruopp had followed correct procedures but did not know that Cinco was wanted on several arrest warrants and had vowed that he would not return to jail even if he had to kill a cop. They obviously did not expect someone being issued a misdemeanor citation to try and kill them.
After Tonahill fell to the ground without being able to draw her weapon, Cinco turned his attention to Ruopp who was standing by his patrol car and opened fire on him before he could unholster his weapon. Ruopp was shot in the head and fell. According to witnesses at the scene, Cinco then walked over to each of the two officers and fired additional shots execution style into their bodies.
Cinco then went to the patrol car, opened the back door, and told the two frightened girls, “Let’s go.” The two girls got out of the vehicle but fled rather than join Cinco. They ran to a nearby park bench and joined a couple that was hiding behind the bench.
At this point a third San Diego officer, Gary E. Mitrovich, 26, a 4-year veteran, arrived on the scene. He heard the two officers on the radio describe the situation, as it existed before the shooting began, and decided to drive to that location. From a block away he heard gunshots and at the scene he saw two parked police vehicles but was unable to see Ruopp or Tonahill.
As he stepped from his car he saw two men in the nearby darkness. He told both to freeze, and Casillas raised his hands and said he did not have a gun. Cinco was crouching behind a car and immediately began firing at Mitrovich who returned fire. He was struck by a bullet in the left shoulder and fell to the ground. Casillas and Cinco fled the scene in different directions.
Casillas, who was not involved in the shooting and apparently wanted to distance himself from Cinco, first tried to join the two girls and the older couple hiding behind the park bench but was told by the older couple to leave. He then panicked and ran into the nearby canyon to hide. He was arrested the night of the shootings but was released within four days when it became apparent he was not involved in the killing of the officers. He had no prior record.
The wounded Mitrovich was able to radio for assistance and police and paramedics rushed to the scene. Before the paramedics arrived, a witness to the shooting, Ernest Silva, 27, ran to the shooting scene and quickly decided that Ruopp was beyond help and thus concentrated his efforts on Tonahill and attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation on her before he was relieved by a police officer.
Mitrovich survived his injuries and on Nov. 30, 1984 was awarded the Medal of Valor, San Diego Police Department’s highest honor, for his courage.
Joselito “Gerry” Cinco, 25, of Encanto was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He had been charged numerous times with carrying a concealed weapon, but each time, he had been released on his own recognizance and given a misdemeanor citation. Court records indicate he was never sentenced to serve time in the California penal system. He was to be arraigned on Sept. 27 for the latest incident “stemming from an arrest June 17 for carrying a concealed gun.”
Cinco had failed to appear for a January trial date on a November 1983 arrest for carrying a concealed weapon, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest in March. However, the warrant had not been served.
Cinco was held without bond and charged with two counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances making him eligible for the death penalty. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death but committed suicide in prison.
Tonahill was born Kimberly Sue on July 23, 1960, in La Mesa, California to David and Sharon Tonahill. She grew up in the San Diego and La Mesa areas attending the local schools and graduating from San Diego’s Patrick Henry High School in 1978. She loved sports and was voted the most valuable player on the high school field hockey team and was manager of the track team.
After high school she studied Child Development at Grossmont Community College. Her goal was to become a police officer, a desire she had held since she was a child.
Tonahill entered the San Diego Regional Law Enforcement Academy on Oct. 27, 1983, with 50 other recruits. She graduated on Feb. 29, 1984, after 16 weeks of training, and was assigned to “Beat 513” around Balboa Park in the Central Division.
A double funeral for officers Tonahill and Ruopp was held at the First United Methodist Church in Mission Valley on Tuesday, Sept. 18. More than 3,000 attended the double funeral. It was reported as the largest turnout for a funeral in the history of the city.
Rev. Mark Trotter officiated at the services and a eulogy for both officers was delivered by San Diego Police Chief William B. Kolender who noted that Kimberly, though female, was accepted (and loved) by her male peers and often socialized with them when off-duty.
Sandy Tucker, a friend of Tonahill’s since the third grade, also spoke at the service reminding the mourners of her “smile that radiated love, support, and warmth.” She told of the officer’s love for children and the joy she had when she took her 2-year-old nephew, Kyle Hamil, on outings.
After the funeral service a 6-mile-long procession of police cars and motorcycles with flashing blue lights escorted Tonahill’s casket to the El Camino Memorial Park in Sorrento Valley for burial. Ruopp’s services concluded at the funeral as he was later cremated.
Tonahill was survived by her parents, David and Sharon Tonahill; a brother, Shane; sister, Tamee; and grandmother, Louise Mays, all of San Diego.