Deputy Joel Wahlenmaier's widow shares memories

FRESNO, Calif.

Fresno County Sheriff's Detective - Joel Wahlenmaier - and Reedley Police Officer - Javier Bejar - died after a gun battle with an arson suspect. For the first time, the widow of one of those officers is ready to talk about that terrible day.

For 30 years, Joel Wahlenmaier and his wife Bev built a life together. They raised their kids and worked hard. They had plans to retire and looked forward to a change of pace. Life had come full circle, but all that suddenly changed on February 25th of last year.

Bev: "This whole year is just finding the new normal. And it's hard. What is that?"

Bev Wahlenmaier still focuses on just making it through each day. For months she went through life numb, trying to figure out how to carry on without the love of her life.

Sontaya asks: "Does it feel like it's been a year?

Bev: "It feels like just a couple months ago."

Bev Barnett and Joel Wahlenmaier met in Fresno when she was 18-years-old. He was 19. They married three years later and had two children, Aimee is 25 and Austin is 22.

Action News was there in 1998 when Bev pinned on Joel's badge. During his time with the sheriff's office he worked everything from property detectives to court services, to search and rescue. He was 49-years-old when he died.

For Bev, the months have been full of ups and downs. Deep pain and great progress. Watching her children mourn their father is toughest.

Sontaya asks: "How are the kids doing?"

Bev: "That's the hardest part of this whole ordeal. As a mom you want to fix it. You always have advice for your kids, something to say something you can tell them what to do that will help the situation when your kids aren't doing so well. You want to fix it, you want to say something and there's nothing to say."

Bev finds herself constantly asking herself what would Joel want me to do. Although they were opposites, they complimented each other too.

Bev: "Joel is quiet. Very quiet. He let me be me. And I know my friends are out there laughing because I can be kind of high maintenance sometimes and he just let me be me. And if I got smacky or something, he would just smile at me."

They had plans to retire, watch their children get married and just enjoy life.

Those plans came to an abrupt end last February. Joel came here to this Fresno County property to serve a search warrant on a man who had been terrorizing his neighbors. The suspect Rick Liles immediately started firing at officers. Joel was hit and so was Reedley Police Officer Javier Bejar. The confrontation ended when Liles took his own life. But when that day started Bev had no idea her life would change forever.

Bev: "I was drinking coffee at the bar at the counter. And he always would wear funky clothes and he would come out and say, does this look ok? And he came out with one outfit and I said 'I don't think so' and so he comes back and he says 'is this ok?' And I said, 'that will do.' And he was sitting there tying his shoe and I was drinking coffee and we were talking back and forth and at first I thought he was going to the gun range because they have to do that and he said no, remember it's that search warrant I'm doing. And I said oh, that's right."

Before he left she kissed him goodbye and told him she loved him. By lunchtime he was gone. One thing Bev doesn't have is regret. Her last words and that final kiss are a sweet reminder of what they shared. And as the first anniversary of his death nears, she hopes Joel is remembered.

Bev: "I'm a little anxious about it. I don't want him to be forgotten just because the year is over. I want him to live on and be in everybody's hearts."

Bev wears a memorial pin to honor Joel and she says she is proud when people ask because it gives her the opportunity to share her husband with them.

Coming up Friday on Action News Live at 5, Bev shares with us how friendships Joel made during his life have comforted her over the past year and the memorable day this fall that will be very bittersweet for Bev because of Joel's absence.


Deputy Joel Wahlenmaier's widow shares memories Part 2

This month marks the one year anniversary of a dark day in Fresno County history.

Last February, two valley law enforcement officers died after a search warrant ended in a hail of gunfire.

Fresno County Sheriff's Detective - Joel Wahlenmaier - and Reedley Police Officer - Javier Bejar - were shot by a suspect under investigation for setting fires and terrorizing neighbors.

Bev Wahlenmaier has persevered through a rough year. She's endured several "firsts", her first birthday without him, their anniversary and that first Christmas.

This fall, Bev will celebrate a bittersweet occasion, a day she always imagined sharing with Joel.

Bev Wahlenmaier was ready to enjoy life with her husband after years of working hard and raising a family.

Bev: "You work 30 years to go someplace and you have a plan, it's gonna be retirement it's gonna, and we were heading there. We were on easy street and just having fun again, going skiing, going up and sitting in the lodge, just enjoying each other."

She and Joel got a glimpse of what their future would be like during their trips to Shaver Lake. Just days before his death they spent a week together there.

Bev: "We went up there and it was just us and then my daughter came up for a while and going to the cabin and Joel's an outdoors person as you probably know. And that's where he was the happiest and I miss that."

The friendships Joel made during his life have been a great source of comfort for Bev over the past year.

Bev: "He has a wide range of friends, he has his deputy friends, he has his hunting friends, college friends, childhood friends. And each one of them brings a little something different. But they are all there and I know I can depend on them at any given time and I have."

Two of Joel's closest friends have promised Bev to never leave her side.

Joe Smith: "She nicknamed me and Eric her bodyguards. We are with her quite a bit and that's actually been a bit fun."

It's also been healing for deputies Eric Schmidt and Joe Smith.

Eric Schmidt: "You're kind of preserving him through her too in a sense."

They plan to mark the one year anniversary of Joel's death just like they did the six month mark, all together reminiscing.

Joe Smith: "It's not a sad event, it's not a candlelight vigil. We sit there and laugh and have a few drinks and we just tell Wally stories essentially. And that's what she wants; she wants to be surrounded by laughter and her friends and family."

But sometimes laughs turn to tears, and there are definitely moments when his absence really hurts. This fall, Joel's daughter Amy is getting married.

Bev: "One of the blessings is her dad got to meet him and approve of him. So that makes it easier, bittersweet."

The wedding will include many simple touches to honor Joel. Bev says she wants Amy's big day to be full of happiness.

Bev: "You have to remember that's it's not a memorial about their dad. It's a happy day. All girls want to be the princess for the day, so you have to reassure them that's what it's going to be, but how difficult."

Through all the heartache of the year, one tremendous help has been the outpouring of love from people all over the valley.

Bev: "I want to thank the community. People are awesome I will tell you. I had no idea. The community is great. The deputies are wonderful family and friends, thank you for everything."

Joel died on February 25th and Bev told me on the 25th of every month, she gets dozens of text messages from people who are thinking about her and it really helps her get through the day.

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