LAYTON — They say you can tell a lot about a person by the way people talk about them after they are gone. By all accounts, Aaron Beesley spent his relatively short 34 years doing an enormous amount of good for his fellow men and leaving a lasting impression on virtually everyone he came in contact with.
"He was just a doer," said his father Robert Beesley. "This (outpouring of support) just tells me that other people knew that too."
Hundreds of people, including family, friends and fellow law enforcement officers from Utah and surrounding states gathered Saturday at Northridge High School to pay their respects to the man who was described as a dedicated public servant, son, brother and father.
A 13-year veteran Utah Highway Patrol trooper, Beesely fell to his death following the rescue of two teenage hikers on Mount Olympus last Saturday. Investigators believe he lost his footing while trying to retrieve a medical backpack that rolled over an edge during the rescue effort. He served as the technical flight officer aboard the helicopter searching for the hikers.
Beesley was the 135th police officer killed in the line of duty in Utah and the 13th UHP trooper. The first was trooper George Van Wagenen, who died in an industrial fall in 1931. Prior to Beesley, the most recent was Lt. Thomas Rettberg, who was killed in 2000 while flying a department helicopter.
Gov. Gary Herbert ordered the lowering of the American and Utah flags to half staff Saturday.
"Aaron’s dedication and bravery as a member of the Utah Highway Patrol … is significantly appreciated," the governor said in a statement.
Though there was palpable sadness in the packed auditorium, there was also a strong sense of cheerfulness from those who spoke about Beesley, including his mother.
"I'm celebrating his life," Laretta Beesley told the audience. "I am happy to be able to be up here and brag about my son."
She recalled how resourceful he was from the time he was small to adulthood. He was a whiz with computers and almost anything electronic, she said.
"He had a gift," Laretta Beesley said. "I would tell him, 'Every time you come to my house, my computer stands up and bows.'"
She recalled how he taught himself to play the piano as a teenager and learned to converse in several foreign languages even though he never took any formal courses in school.
"Aaron was brilliant," his mother said. "And he didn't even realize it."
Beesley always aspired to be in law enforcement, she said, having expressed sincere interest before he left on his LDS Church mission.
Upon returning, he endeavored into his public service career, joining the UHP and becoming a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician in Box Elder County.
His younger brother, Arik — also a UHP trooper — told the audience that he always looked up to Aaron and how his brother always set a good example as a law enforcement officer.
"He should have gotten trooper of the year every year for all he did," Arik Beesley said. "He lived life better than I hope to do in the next 50 years."
"That's something I'll never forget. We were best friends," he said. "(Aaron) was always about helping."
Aaron loved his job and his family, Arik Beesley said.
"Our family is all blessed for having him in our lives," he added.
Beesley leaves behind his wife, Kristi, and three sons, Austin, 7, and 4-year-old twins Derek and Preston.
His friend and UHP colleague, Lt. Lee Perry, said Beesley was a very hard worker who took his "call to serve" very seriously.
"There is no way (to quantify) the number of lives he saved," Perry said. "It far exceeds the number of medals, letters and accolades he received."
Perry described Beesley as a "selfless man" who was always willing to do anything for anyone.
"One of the amazing things about him that was so cool was … he made everyone feel like they were the most important person on earth," he said.
Through Beesley's technical expertise and ingenuity, the department was able to save money and become more efficient resulting in more lives saved, Perry said. That kind of person is not easily replaced, he said.
"Obviously, Aaron is going to be missed," Perry said.
Speaking solemnly at the funeral with emotion in his voice, Herbert said Beesley set an example that everyone could follow in serving his or her community.
"We have a challenge, all of us, to serve each other, to love one another … to be better people and to help those who are struggling," he said. "In every manner of his life, Aaron demonstrated the principles of fortitude and selflessness that make me proud to be a Utahn."
While the Beesley family is still coming to grips with the tragic and unexpected loss, Aaron's father said there is still much they all can be grateful for.
"We're celebrating his life," Robert Beesley said. "That's what he would have chosen and we're happy to do that."