Memorial service for first California peace officer to die of coronavirus

A memorial service, 16 months delayed, will be held for Santa Rosa Police Detective Marylou Armer on Thursday.

Armer, 43, died of Covid-19 in March 2020 as the pandemic was emerging and precautions were few.

She was the first peace officer in California killed by the coronavirus and only the second death in Sonoma County.

"I haven't felt a sense of closure but I think this is going to do it," said sister Tess Lau.

She and other relatives have traveled from Southern California for the 10 a.m. service, which will be open only to Armer's family, friends, and colleagues. The public is invited to line Mendocino Avenue, north of Steele Lane, to show their respect as a much larger procession passes by.

Armer was cremated, and her ashes will be brought to the event at the Luther Burbank Performing Arts Center.

"Her death was a shock wave for all of us," said Santa Rosa Police Chief Rainer Navarro, who hopes the ceremony will bring healing as it honors Armer. 

Hers was a line-of-duty death, as she contracted COVID while working in the field on two sexual assault cases.

"When she became ill we became putting protocols into place immediately," recalled Navarro. "I think everyone was learning at the time."

MORE: Santa Rosa police detective dies from complications of COVID-19

Armer was the middle sister among three siblings, who remember her as a quiet, easygoing child.

As a teenager, she developed an interest in law enforcement and became a police Explorer.

In Santa Rosa, she began as an evidence technician, with a reputation for meticulous work.

By 2008, she had become a sworn officer.

"Her first night on solo patrol, she chased down a DUI driver and took him off the street," recalled Navarro.

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In 2016 Armer was promoted to detective. 

"She had a goal and when she reached that goal, she wanted to reach a higher goal," said Lau.

When Armer died, she was working in domestic violence and sex crimes. 

"Some of the most vile cases we ever see in law enforcement and she was on the front lines," said Navarro, lauding Armer's compassion.

"When she sat down with you and she talked to you, you were the most important person in the world."  

Lau says her sister felt compelled to help victims.

"Her sense of saving someone or helping someone to escape those situations is what gave her drive."

Navarro admits he still struggles with Armer's death. 

"You never want to lose anybody and it happened on my watch, so it's hard," he said emotionally.  "This was a silent killer that came through and I don't think anybody was prepared for it and it was devastating."

Until now, the only procession for Armer was from the hospital to the mortuary.

Lau says Armer had three goals: a family of her own, a rewarding career, and traveling the world.

She accomplished them all, marrying in 2015 and raising a step-daughter with husband Mark, in American Canyon.

Lau says they will not be attending the service, and continue to grieve privately.  

She continues to be haunted by questions.

"What kills me are the what-ifs?" said Lau, "what if she had been treated right away, would she still be here?"

Like many people sickened before COVID was understood, Armer thought she had the flu, but it continued to worsen.

"She said she was having the hardest time breathing and she had never felt that sick before," recalled Lau.

The family blames Kaiser’s Vallejo Medical Center for repeatedly refusing to test Armer for Covid and delaying her diagnosis.

The hospital has said it was following public health rules that were in place. 

"She asked three, four times and was denied until that fourth time and by then it was too late," said Lau.

"I strongly feel that if she was tested early enough, they could have done something to help her."

On her cell phone, Lau still has her last texts from her sister, as she was finally admitted to the hospital.

Armer's message reads, "They're gonna knock me out and put a breathing tube down my throat, I won’t be awake again until tomorrow."

She died a week later, never regaining consciousness.