LAS VEGAS — He wore an oversized cowboy hat and a black shirt with cut-off sleeves while his police uniform mostly likely lay neatly folded at home.
It was a yearly tradition for Las Vegas Metropolitan Officer Charleston Hartfield, 34, to attend the Route 91 Harvest Festival with his wife. Leaving their two young children at home, he could let loose and have some off-duty fun.
Photos from the weekend show him enjoying a deep-fried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and taking seflies with his high school sweetheart, their faces lit from the neon lights of the Vegas Strip.
'He ultimately gave his life protecting others'
But when the first spray of bullets rained down on the festival from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Sunday night, Hartfield “immediately took action to save lives,” Clark County Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Moving fast and with the authority of a man who spent his life as a soldier and police officer, he worked to escort people safely out of the packed venue as the barrage of bullets fell. He looked around to assess the grounds and to the sky to help other officers locate the shooter before more lives could be taken.
Then, a bullet found him. No one would argue he didn’t die in the line of duty.
“He ultimately gave his life protecting others,” McMahill said.
On Thursday evening, few words were spoken regarding the final moments of Hartfield’s life or what led gunman Stephen Paddock to unleash the volley of ammunition that killed 58 people and injured hundreds more.
Instead, family, friends, fellow officers and the community packed Police Memorial Park, whispering words of comfort in tearful hugs and honoring the 11-year police veteran they call “the most American man.”
The Nevada National Guard called him a "proud soldier" and "gentle giant.'
'You should be extremely proud of him'
Hartfield had recently published book, “Memoirs of a Public Servant,” in which he described himself as an officer in the “busiest and brightest city in the world, Las Vegas.”
Police chaplains passed around flowers and candles as the crowd broke away from personal conversations to come together, awaiting the arrival of Hartfield’s wife, Veronica, and their children, Isaiah and Savannah.
Chaplain Raymond Giddens said he and fellow chaplains have worked around the clock to comfort Metro police officers. However, more time for reflection will have to come later. For now, the officers continue to respond to Sunday’s shootings
“Tonight, for some, is the first time they’re allowed to comprehend that he is truly gone,” Giddens said.
As the sun set low in the sky, silence fell on the park dedicated as a tribute to fallen officers in the Vegas community. Mourners stood as a line of officers escorted Hartfield’s family to the front.
“I want to thank you for sharing your dad, your husband, and allowing him to be a part of our family,” Steve Grammas, president of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, said. “You should be extremely proud of him. Judging by this turn out … this community is proud of him as well.”
An officer and a soldier
Before Hartfield was an officer, he was a soldier. He was an active National Guard at the time of his death.
He was deployed to Iraq in 2003, serving in a task force awarded a presidential citation for “extraordinary heroism.” Army records show that Hartfield received numerous other individual commendations and achievement medals.
From a rough upbringing in Los Angeles, Hartfield had enlisted in the U.S. Army to “get away,” 1Lt. Christian Souza told USAToday. Hartfield “went on to change hundred of lives,” as a mentor in the Army and later on the police force, he said.
Men who had gone through the police academy with him took to the stage to give one last send off.
“Third Platoon! Ahhhh!,” the men shouted.
Hartfield had donned a third uniform in his life, a blue polo shirt with the logo “HC,” representing the Henderson Cowboys, the football team his son played on and he coached.
Hartfield didn’t play football himself, according to officers, but he purchased several books on the sport, drills and routes when his son joined the team.
Photos | Victims of the Las Vegas shooting
'We're going to take it from here'
Veronica wiped a tear from her son’s face and reached for her daughter. As officers stood up to share their memories, each made a promise: they would support and love Hartfield's family the way they supported and loved Hartfield.
Officer Jenny Rodriguez reminded the crowd that Hartfield had helped pay and design a memorial wall for fallen Vegas officers inside the Southeast Area Command precinct in 2010.
A year earlier, Metro police had its deadliest year, losing four officers. Hartfield thought the wall was “completely unacceptable,” saying “I’m going to honor our fallen officers better than that,” Rodriguez recalled.
Now, the department will honor him, she said, reading a quote that Hartfield had chosen to display on the memorial: "No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave."
"We love you, Charlie. Until we meet again my friend, my brother. We’re going to take it from here,” she said.