Hundreds of mourners gathered Wednesday in Fort Bragg to honor Mendocino County Sheriff's Office Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino, who was killed in the line of duty last week.
"His gentle smile was enough to calm certain situations, and his size was enough to calm others," Sheriff Tom Allman said. "The only thing bigger than Ricky Del Fiorentino was his heart."
Del Fiorentino, a veteran law enforcement officer who had been stationed on the coast with the sheriff's office for 16 years and served 10 years with the Fort Bragg Police Department, was shot to death March 19 in his patrol car in the tiny community of Cleone while searching for an armed suspect in a crime spree that began in Eugene, Ore.
"In my heart of hearts, I believe that he saved the lives of many innocent people from a monster who intended to do damage," Allan said. "The word hero has to be his legacy, not just for March 19, but for everything he was."
Allman also thanked Fort Bragg Police Department Lt. John Naulty, who heard the shots and engaged suspect Ricardo Antonio Chaney -- who was later found dead -- in a gun fight.
"You are a warrior," Allman said, and the audience stood and applauded.
Men and women in uniform, family and friends filled the auditorium to remember the fallen deputy.
"This is a celebration of Ricky's life; this is to focus on how Ricky lived. He lived so much more than as a law enforcement officer," Allman said.
Del Fiorentino was remembered by several speakers for his contagious smile, his distinctive laugh, his friendship and love for family and colleagues, his respect for everyone and for his exemplary service.
The memorial service lasted just more than two hours and featured short video clips of the deputy and a slide show of pictures from Del Fiorentino's life, his service and his marriage to his wife, Beth, six years ago. Several law enforcement agencies attended from surrounding communities, including Humboldt County, and from out of state.
Del Fiorentino earned the Distinguished Service Award for Heroism from the city of Fort Bragg after jumping into the Noyo River to save a child who had jumped into the river. He also earned the award for saving four people who were swept into the water by a "freak" wave.
Del Fiorentino was born May 28, 1965, in Napa, where he went to school and received a wrestling scholarship to Oklahoma University, then attended Napa Valley College Police Academy when he returned to California.
He started working for the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office as a deputy in 1988, then became an officer with the Fort Bragg Police Department in 1990. He returned to the sheriff's office in May 2000.
Del Fiorentino leaves behind his five children, Mika, Hailey, Tim, Dahl and Lexi, and his wife, Beth.