Slain LACoFD engineer aspired to work in fire service since childhood
Family and friends remember Tory Carlon as a dedicated father and husband who loved being a firefighter and serving others
Faith E. Pinho
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Tory Carlon was fiddling with a BB gun when the bullet hit a metal fence, ricocheting back and injuring the young teenager's eye.
First responders swarmed to the pasture where the child was playing, saving him from a potentially blinding incident.
Inspired by the emergency professionals who aided him, his nieces later said, young Tory knew he wanted to become a firefighter to help others, too.
"Uncle Tory loved his job, that's for sure," said niece Mariah Jean. "He was a goner."
Carlon, 44, died Tuesday when a colleague walked into Los Angeles County Fire Department Station 81 in Agua Dulce and shot him following a workplace dispute, according to authorities. Another fire captain, Arnoldo Sandoval, 54, tried to intervene and was injured in the shooting.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby described Carlon as "truly dedicated, one of our better firefighters, amazing, and a true loss to our department."
Tributes to the fallen firefighter poured in after Tuesday's shooting. A GoFundMe account set up to help Carlon's wife, Heidi, and his three daughters grew to more than $215,000 on Friday, as well-wishers from his "fire family" offered their condolences.
As soon as 19-year-old Saugus resident Donavon Yochim returned home from his plumbing job Tuesday night, he set to work with his girlfriend, Rebekah Manes, constructing a wooden cross in honor of Carlon. After eight hours of work, they finished staining and painting the memorial and placed it at the foot of the Station 81 driveway.
"Firefighters are out there protecting us, and don't have anything to protect themselves from any danger from humans," Yochim said. "It was just very alarming and shocking to hear at the time that somebody had randomly walked up and hurt one of them."
Hundreds of firefighters showed their support for the slain first responder on Thursday by attending his daughter Joslyn's graduation from Saugus High School in Santa Clarita. Donning a graduation cap decorated with her father's photo, the graduate walked down an aisle formed by dozens of Carlon's uniformed colleagues.
The gruesome way Carlon died did not match the fun-loving, soft-spoken man that friends and family described. He grew up in Leona Valley as the youngest of five, "one of the brightest spots in the family," according to Jean.
"He was the pride and joy," Jean said. "There was a very calming presence about him that was just very centering and very light."
Only five years younger than Carlon, Jean grew up admiring her handsome, affable uncle, and thinking of him as an older cousin or brother. He happily played the part, teaching Jean and her sister how to play pool and Mario Bros. video games. He also pulled a fair share of pranks on them with dirt-flavored gum and whoopie cushions.
As Jean recalls: "There was a lot of silly string."
As a teenager, Carlon accompanied Jean, her friend and her mother on a trip to Disneyland to celebrate her 12th birthday.
"I was like, huh, he could be anywhere else, but he's here with his older sister and little nieces," said the 39-year-old. "He really was honestly, extremely cool. Everyone loved him."
April Ferguson was one of those who fell for him: She and Carlon began dating when she was a high school freshman. He was a senior and a "top returner" second baseman for the school's baseball team, according to The Times archive. Ferguson, now 42, recalled how sweet he was to attend all of her cheerleading competitions and high school dances, even after he had graduated Highland High School in 1994 and went on to Antelope Valley College.
In high school, Carlon talked about becoming a firefighter often, even as friends questioned his aspiration.
"I remember thinking it was an interesting choice of career for him, because it's scary and you've got to have a certain oomph to take on a job like this, and he just seemed so quiet and laid-back," Ferguson said. "But clearly this was his passion — I mean gosh, 20 years later, he was still doing what he loved."
Jean described Carlon as having almost a one-track vision for his career as a firefighter. He chose not to follow his brother and father, who ran the family business, Carlon Auto Sales in Lancaster. Instead, he worked his way up through various first-responder jobs before becoming a firefighter. Jean remembered attending his fire academy graduation, at which he was beaming.
"He found his thing," she said.
Carlon eventually landed at the Los Angeles County Fire Department, where he worked for 20 years.
"When it comes to being a father, when it comes to being a fireman, when it comes to being a mentor, there is nobody that could parallel that," a firefighter friend said at a vigil Tuesday night, according to a KABC-TV Channel 7 report.
The local fire union posted on Facebook: "Tory was a dedicated father and husband who loved being a firefighter and serving others."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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