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Remembering Howard Stevenson
Kathy Stevenson remembers her husband, Sgt. Howard "Howie" Stevenson, coming home from work for a quick bite to eat the evening of Jan. 9, 2005. He was on a short break, anxious also to pluck feathers from the four ducks he shot with his father in Lakeport over the weekend.

A call came in for him to tend to the discovery of a chop shop. A short while later Stevenson was on his way to an ominous sounding call about a man being shot at in front of George's Liquors. Little did she realize, Kathy was seeing her husband for the last time.

"I said what I always said, 'Love you' and 'Be safe,'" said Kathy. "I did get an extra kiss."

Twenty minutes later Stevenson, a 19-year veteran of the Ceres Police Department would be killed in a cold-blooded crime that sends shudders through Ceres today. Andres Raya, a disaffected Marine who was home on AWOL, had a semi-automatic gun underneath his rain parka. He waited for the first officer to arrive. Officer Sam Ryno poked his head around the corner of Jiro Tires Plus shop as a torrent of bullets blasted the glass window he was hiding behind. Ryno was hit in his leg and had he not been dragged to safety by a quick acting officer Chris Melton, Raya would have killed them both.

Seconds later Stevenson approached the store from the east was fatally shot by Raya before fleeing into the nearby neighborhood where he was eventually killed by officers that night.

On Friday many of Stevenson's friends and comrades mingled with family members and city employees at a luncheon held at the Ceres Community Center. Since the shooting, the department has hosted a luncheon near the anniversary date as a way of remembering the man who gave his life for others.

A bearded Ryno stopped by - the first time he had been at one of the gatherings. He told everyone who asked that he is feeling great. Ryno, however, wouldn't talk about the crime that ripped a hole through his life and injected him into seemingly endless ordeal of pain, surgeries, doctor appointments, rehabilitation therapy and emotional trauma. He said his anger flared up when the Bee called for an interview and he tore up the reporter's name and number.

"It was good for him to come by," said wife Lynda Ryno.

The Rynos were on their way out of town to spend the weekend on the coast. Understandably, the Rynos "make it a point to be out of town on the anniversary date," she said.

Inside the large assembly room, officers, firefighters and city employees dropped by to eat and mingle. Howard's mother, Phyllis Stevenson, tenderly offered her graciousness and thanks to all who expressed their continued sorrow. Her eyes were moist with tears.

Inside the kitchen, Michael Stevenson, Howard's father, took a break from transporting sliced roast beef and buns to talk about his son.

"The pain and grief isn't as piercing but the loss is the same," said Stevenson, who was sporting a dark blue Ceres Police ball cap. "He's gone. He's not with us."

Stevenson said he always respected his son for choosing such a noble field of work but always felt "uncomfortable" about his son being in such a dangerous occupation. "It's no different than any parent who has a child in the military," said Stevenson.

Michael Stevenson said that had his son not been cut down five years ago, Howie would still be a Ceres officer.

"He would still be here today. He loved Ceres. This is where he wanted to raise his kids. He just really loved the community. His daughter was in sports and he was a coach."

The Stevensons try to visit Ceres from Lake County to visit Kathy and their grandchildren several times a year. They also visit the memorial on the bank of the river at Ceres Riverbluff Regional Park.

"We like to go to the grove. It's very peaceful. We feel a little comfort there."

He said the support from the Ceres community, particularly Stevenson's co-workers, continues to amaze him. He expressed appreciation that the community prompted the state to name the new Whitmore Overpass after their son. The city urged state lawmakers to name a section of Highway 99 after Stevenson but learned that there were no available sections in Stanislaus County that haven't already been memorialized.

The shooting has drawn the family close together he said, saying that "Kathy's kept our family together." But she downplays being called the glue that holds the family together, saying "for us, one picks up the slack for another. I'm not always the strong one. I cry too."

Kathy said drawing closer to God and family has helped her cope with the loss. She has anchored to faith in Jesus Christ to remain strong.

"Night time is always hard," she said. "It's the spouse stuff, where you talk about how your day went before you go to bed."

Kathy met Howard when they both worked together at the old Handyman store on McHenry Avenue in Modesto. Stevenson worked there in 1985 when he was a reserve with Ceres Police. They were married in 1988.

Her faith has taught her how to feel grace toward the family of the man who took her husband.

"The world's a dark place," she said. "I keep them (Rayas) in prayer. I don't have any animosity toward them. We know drugs were involved and allegedly gangs involved. It's got to be hard for them. They lost a son. They have a grave to visit too."

Mrs. Stevenson said the community can learn from her husband's death.

"If there's anything I've learned it's that we've got to keep our kids away from gangs. If you're paying attention you'll know. But kids can be good at hiding things. We have to be diligent as a community to keep these kids out of gangs. Studies tell us that gangs develop out of a mutual instinct to be a part of a family."

Bryce Stevenson said the death of his father further prompted him to seek a career in law enforcement. He's attending Modesto Junior College and attending the Police Academy.

"It strengthened by desire to be an officer," said Stevenson. "The honor and courage is something I've wanted to do."

He remembers riding along in a patrol car with his father.

"He saw that I had a mind to be an engineer. He just wanted me to do more. He had no issue with me wanting to do it. He would be encouraging me today."

Other members of the Stevenson family in attendance were Howard's sister, Carmen Stevenson, and his aunt, Kelly Boice.