Eulogized last week at a service attended by thousands, including Gov. Jerry Brown, the popular officer was remembered through laughter and tears for his dedication, commitment and love for his family. But his other family – the close-knit CHP officers who worked side-by-side with Youngstrom – is also mourning his loss.
“It’s a tragedy,” said officer and East County resident Mike Wright, who often worked as a beat partner with Youngstrom. “Just a plain tragedy. He and I had a special bond. We sat next to each other every day in briefings and he always made me smile. Everyone in division knew him, liked him and respected him.”
The CHP community is a small, tightly knit family, and when news of the shooting hit the airwaves, Wright – who was on duty at the time in Brentwood – raced to the scene. The ambulance carrying Youngstrom passed Wright on his way there, and when he arrived at the scene Wright became the scribe – the officer responsible for sealing off the crime scene as the investigation began.
“All we knew at that point was that he (Youngstrom) was critical and that the suspect was dead,” said Wright. “We were all in shock.”
Following the shooting – per department protocol – Youngstrom’s CHP colleagues were given the week off and assigned time with grief counselors for both the officers and their families.
“Everyone needs help when something like this happens,” said Wright. “We all feel guilty; we all have stuff to deal with, including the families. Every victim – from the dispatcher to the spouses to the officers on the scene – gets help.”
The officers also held an around-the-clock vigil at the hospital, doing what they could to support Youngstrom’s family and each another. “We were the bus drivers,” said Wright. “Whatever they needed, wherever they needed to go, we were there. It made us at least feel like we were helping, that we had each other’s backs.”
Youngstrom was an organ donor. Once he was taken off life support, his kidneys, liver, heart and pancreas were given to four patients awaiting transplants. His generous donation serves as a reminder to Wright and his fellow officers of the tenuousness of life and the perils of the job.
“It does show you how fragile life is day to day,” said Wright. “And it does make you think. I’m a little more cautious these days; I think a little bit more when I approach someone because you just never know.
“Kenyon was the perfect officer. He was respectful, dedicated and thorough. I had twice as many years on the job as he, but I looked up to him. We all did. He will be missed.”