Dillon Vakoff loved fishing. He loved his family. He loved spending time with the family dog.

He loved Halloween costumes.

But most of all, he loved Megan Esslinger, fellow Arvada Police officer.

And the couple loved to do one thing together – dance.

But not just any kind of dancing.

“He would always want to dance with me even when there was no music," Esslinger said at the funeral services of Vakoff, who was shot and killed in the line of duty on Sunday. 

They danced – to music only they can hear – "at the zoo, in the street and at a baseball game.”

”No one tells you how that phone call hits you like a train," she said upon learning that Vakoff had been shot and killed. "I got that phone call at 2:40 in the morning.”

Hundreds of people, many of them police officers from near and far, paid tribute to the young Arvada officer –  he was only 27 when he was killed – who dreamed of joining the SWAT team.   

Hours earlier, police cars from around the state and the country descended on Lafayette Friday morning for the memorial services, their lights blinking in a long procession of a sad but now all-too-familiar ritual. All told, nearly 600 personnel from about 85 agencies, including departments from Empire, Durango, Montrose, Ault, and Custer County, paid their respects to Vakoff.  

The mourners also learned a little bit more about Vakoff.

A military supervisor said Vakoff served in the Middle East, launching strike missions against ISIS as an active Air Force member. And he went to Guam, volunteering through typhoons as an emergency personnel. He had been selected as top sergeant from 800 others.

One after another, Vakoff's friends, family, and colleagues came to remember him. They talked about how, as a teenager, he wore a baseball cap on backwards, plus matching suit and jeans.

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Police officers carry the casket of fallen Arvada Police officer Dillon Vakoff into the church during his funeral procession on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, at Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, Colo. Vakoff was killed in the line of duty last Sunday while responding to a call in Arvada. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)

And the tiny workout shorts he wore was a common joke among those who loved Vakoff, who said, “They were shorter than a normal man should wear.” 

His death robbed not just the Arvada Police force of an officer. His mother has now lost both of her sons –  Vakoff’s older brother died before him.

Among those who watched the procession was Chris Whiteman, 37, of Superior, who brought his 16-month old son, Micah, to the corner of Colorado Highway 7 and 119th Street east of Lafayette so they could observe the line of police cars making their way to the funeral service. 

"I'm training to become a police officer, so this hits me really hard," Whiteman said. 

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Whiteman said he was at the Boulder King Soopers when Boulder Police Officer Eric Talley, 51, a 10-year veteran of the department, was killed on March 22, 2021. That day, a gunman had stormed the grocery store and killed 10 people, including Talley. 

"I want my son to know if daddy is killed in the line of duty, these officers out here are doing a very important job," Whiteman said. 

The service begat at 10 a.m. at Flatirons Community Church and was open to the public. It was the third service for a slain police officer at the church in 17 months.

Inside the huge chapel, hundreds of law enforcement officers, who came from as far away as Utah and as close as Lakewood, took their seats. On a central stage were flowers draped with Vakoff's mottos: "So others may live" and "Go Get Some."

Vakoff's family, including his mother who wore a dark blue dress and shiny silver shoes, had a quiet moment with his flag-draped casket. 

Vakoff was an Air Force veteran who had been with Arvada Police for three years with an eye on being a SWAT officer. He was a 2012 graduate of Ralston Valley High School, was dating a fellow police officer, and was a fiend in the weight room.

His friend, Nevada Roybal, said that Vakoff loved to compete with him at the gym, forever goading him on to jump higher or add weight to his lift.

"He was super-fit. His smile made you feel comfortable," said Roybal. "When I heard an Arvada policeman died, I figured there was no way it could be him."

Arvada Police Chief Link Strate said that had he lived, Vakoff would have made a positive impact.

“This is a tragic loss to this community, to this department, but most significantly to his family and loved ones,” Strate said. 

The neighborhood where Vakoff was killed was his regular beat, according to neighbors, who said that he was always smiling and ready to help in whatever way he could.

The suspect in his death, 31-year-old-Sonny Almanza, is in the Jefferson County jail facing eight charges including first degree murder of a peace officer, attempt to commit murder in the first degree, possession of a weapon by a previous offender and two counts of child abuse. 

City Editor

Dennis Huspeni is a 30-year newspaper journalist who is the City Editor and covers metro Denver business.

Denver Enterprise Reporter

A 40-year Colorado news veteran, Carol McKinley started in radio, and traveled the world as a network TV correspondent/producer. In 2021, she decided to return to local news. A Baghdad alum, she has 4 grown children and lives with her husband and her mom.