The family of 21-year-old Michael Hallenbeck, the U.S. Forest Service firefighter who died battling the Sierra Fire last weekend, honored his memory this afternoon amid hundreds of friends and fellow firefighters.
The crowd joined in a procession that began in South Tahoe and spanned all the way to Placerville to salute their fallen hero.
The 75 mile journey served as a remembrance of “Mikey” Hallenbeck's journey through life.
There was no shortage of tears or somber faces from his forest service crew members or those closest to the Hallenbeck family.
"He just lit up a room with his bright blue eyes and his giant smile," said family friend Linette Collins.
Collins’ own son Derrick died just a few months ago at age 18. She says Mikey, adventurous and full of life, was the solace her family needed.
"I'm just so thankful we got the opportunity to get to know him," Collins said.
Hallenbeck died last weekend as a result of injuries he suffered from a falling tree.
The U.S. Forest Service has yet to offer details as to why or how the tree fell.
Spokesperson C.J. Novell said Monday that the agency is doing a thorough investigation.
From Green Valley Cemetery, to the bridges over Highway 20, hundreds joined the Hallenbeck family as they brought their son home one last time.
"He just became a firefighter and everybody including him was really excited about that. To have it be this –tragic," said Mark Ashurst, who is a member of the El Dorado County Amateur Radio Club along with Hallenbeck’s father.
The entire group gathered on the Bedford overpass near Coloma Road in Placerville with flags, flowers and faith. It was one of 10 overpasses draped in flags and carrying supporters, many who saluted as the procession went by.
A large portion of these supporters didn’t now Hallenbeck personally.
"Those firefighters are just amazing, they risk their lives every day and I'm just here to support them," said Peg Campbell, who has never met the Hallenbeck family.
But the hurt from this tragic loss lies strongest with those who have.
"He was a hero. He was a hero, not just because he died in a fire, because of who he was,” said Nycole Webb, one of Hallenbeck’s close friends.
And he certainly got a hero's goodbye, according to Webb.
The family organized the ceremony Thursday in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service. Hallenbeck's funeral will be Saturday.
The Hallenbeck family has set up a fund to receive donations on their son’s behalf for funeral services as well as to make contributions to organizations that have helped Michael (Bi Polar Insights, Green Valley Church, and Wildland Fire Fighters Foundation).
Donations may be made in care of Michael – Mikey-Hallenbeck Memorial Fund Account #2099471902 by either going into a Wells Fargo Bank branch or mailing it to: Wells Fargo Bank, Attn: R. Bechtel, 1512 Eureka Rd, Suite 300, Roseville, CA 95661