Vail Valley community mourns Tayler Esslinger at memorial in Eagle
Deceased deputy honored by hundreds of first responders, family, friends
EAGLE — Life is fragile, more so if you’re in the business of saving others as Tayler Esslinger was. What first responders know but rarely talk about is that police officers and fire fighters are more likely to die of suicide than in the line of duty.
Hundreds gathered Monday in the Eagle River Center to celebrate and mourn Esslinger. The Eagle County Sheriff’s deputy and Gypsum firefighter died last week of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Firefighters and police officers walked in slowly, many shaking hands, some asking the reflexive question that we all ask all the time, “How are you?” Then they stopped a moment for the unspoken reply, “heartbroken and confused.”
Pastor Michael Chon offered prayers, read Psalms gently reminding the crowd that God heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.
More than 50 emergency vehicles from across Colorado, from the Front Range to the Grand Valley and all over the region, gathered in Gypsum and paraded to Eagle, rolling under a massive American flag suspended between ladder trucks from the Gypsum and Eagle fire departments. Hundreds of uniformed first responders rolled in with them, all with American flags on their sleeves and black shrouds across their badges.
Hundreds more of Esslinger’s family and friends packed the Eagle River Center, many asking the same question.
“Some are still trying to make sense of ‘Why,’ how it could come to this,” Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek said. “Those answers will continue to elude us.”
When Esslinger donned his brown uniform shirt for his first-ever shift as a sheriff’s deputy in Eagle County, he was so proud he smiled for a week, van Beek said.
We also know that serving his community was Tayler’s calling, van Beek said.
“You sign on because you care about the welfare of others. Tayler brought joy. He served well,” van Beek said.
Tayler’s twin brother Tyler was part of an honor guard and smartly marched in carrying his brother’s ashes in an American flag urn. Tyler thanked the massive crowd for coming saying, “He was my best friend.” Then could say no more.
Eagle Police Officer Bryce Hinton said he has been in that “Dark, cold, lonely place.” He got help and admonished others to do the same. “You are not alone. You are loved,” Hinton his fellow first responders.
Another said she was glad she told Esslinger often that she loved him.
“He was so good at helping people. The raw emotion in this room is a testament to what he meant to us,” his brother Josh said.
In terms of area, it’s the county’s smallest conservation deal ever. In terms of location, it’s one of the county’s rarest acquisitions.