MONTEBELLO, Calif. — A Montebello police officer who had been on the force less than a year died of a gunshot wound Sunday after discharging his weapon inside the police department, authorities said.
Officer Kenneth Utsinger, 41, was pronounced dead at the police station at 1600 W. Beverly Blvd. at 5:24 a.m. Sunday, according to Sarah Ardalani, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.
While the call for assistance came in as a suicide, an autopsy is still pending for Utsinger, who lived in Downey, according to the coroner’s office and reported by local news, KTLA.
A source familiar with the investigation but not authorized to discuss it said Utsinger’s body was found inside the police station’s locker room.
Utsinger attended the police academy last year and joined the ranks of the Montebello Police Department in January. He served as a correctional officer in Oklahoma for 11 years before relocating to California in 2017 to be closer to his wife’s sister, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Utsinger had told his colleagues that his lifelong dream was to be a police officer, according to a statement from the Montebello Police Department. After working in corrections for 11 years, Utsinger had said he was looking forward to being on the streets if, as he put it, he could make it through the academy because he was a “little older” than most. Utsinger was 40 in the academy and turned 41 just a few weeks ago.
“We can never prepare for losing someone so unexpectedly, and we can certainly never understand why someone with so much potential and passion for public service would leave us too soon,” Chief Brad Keller said in a statement. “We can ask why, only to never really ever get a true answer, since the person who holds that answer is no longer with us.”
The chief added: “Kenneth was voted by his peers, at the Rio Hondo Police Academy, as the ‘most inspirational recruit.’ After his command oral I wrote one comment, ‘well done and humble.’ It was not a surprise to me that he was an inspiration to his Rio Hondo class,” reported ABC 7 News.
Utsinger’s death comes amid a growing awareness of officer suicides. Several studies in recent years have found that police suicides exceed all combined causes of on-duty deaths.
In 2018, at least 159 officers died by suicide, 9% more than the total number of line-of-duty deaths from 15 other causes.
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