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Coast Guardsman Hailed as Hero

Senior Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III died trying to protect his fellow guardsmen when a panga boat rammed the small vessel he was on near the Channel Islands.

Nearly 1,000 people gathered at Redemption Point in San Pedro on Saturday to honor Senior Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, a Redondo Beach resident and a member of the U.S. Coast Guard who died after the inflatable boat he was on was rammed by a small panga boat.

Members of the law-enforcement community; U.S. Coast Guard and other armed services; Canadian Mounted Police; local, state and federal officials; and family and friends of Horne attended the ceremony.

Horne, 34, was killed last Sunday near Santa Cruz Island while conducting law-enforcement operations aboard the Marina del Rey-based Coast Guard Cutter Halibut, which was struck by a panga-style vessel suspected of illicit activities, Eggers said. The panga boat—a small craft often used for smuggling—had been running without any lights.

"This tragic attack … reminds us of the unique dangers the men and women of the Coast Guard face and their willingness to meet them on a moment's notice, with great valor and selflessness," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who also attended the ceremony. The Coast Guard is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security.

The fleeing panga boat was stopped, and two suspects were detained, officials said. A criminal complaint related to Horne's death was filed against Jose Meija-Leyva and Manual Beltran-Higuera, both Mexican nationals, on Monday.

Saturday's ceremony included multiple aircraft flyovers, a 21-gun salute by the Coast Guard Honor Guard, music by the Coast Guard band, and the presentation of the Coast Guard Medal, a posthumous honor for Horne.

"Senior Chief Horne lived the Coast Guard ethos and was an example to all," said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp, Jr. "We will forever remember him for his selfless leadership and his courage. He made the ultimate sacrifice in service to his shipmates and the nation, just as he served others throughout his 14-year career.

"Senior Chief Horne's legacy as a shipmate, leader, and Coast Guardsman is now indelibly stamped in our service history. And this nation is more secure because of him."

Horne is survived by his expectant wife, Rachel, and two sons, Kade and Miller.

'He put his crew before himself'

"Sr. Chief Horne was in the true sense of the word, a hero," said Papp as he described Horne's actions to save a fellow guardsman on the night of his death. "He did what leaders do instinctively, reflexively—he put his crew before himself."

According to reports from the Coast Guard and U.S. Attorney's Office, the Halibut and its crew had boarded a suspicious boat spotted by a Coast Guard airplane late Dec. 1. The aircraft spotted a second panga boat near the island's Smuggler's Cove, so guardsmen aboard the Halibut launched the cutter's small, rigid inflatable boat.

The four guardsmen in the boat located the panga boat—described as a 30-foot-long, open-bowed fishing vessel—shortly after 1:20 a.m. Dec. 2. The panga boat was running without lights, so the Coast Guard officers activated their boat's lights and identified themselves as law enforcement.

The two crew members aboard the panga boat, believed to be Meija-Leyva and Beltran-Higuera, throttled the engine and steered the boat directly toward the Coast Guard vessel.

Despite attempts to steer the Coast Guard boat out of the way—one officer fired multiple shots from his service weapon at the panga boat—the other vessel rammed the Coast Guard boat, tossing Horne and another guardsman into the water.

"When impact with the oncoming vessel became unavoidable, Senior Chief Petty Officer Horne, disregarding his own safety in order to protect a fellow crewmember, forcibly pushed the coxswain from the helm, directly exposing himself to the oncoming vessel," Coast Guard officials wrote in the citation to accompany the Coast Guard Medal. "Senior Chief Petty Officer Horne demonstrated remarkable initiative, exceptional fortitude and daring in spite of imminent personal danger.

"His courage and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard."

While the other guardsman suffered a minor laceration to his knee, Horne sustained a traumatic head injury from the boat propeller. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at Port Hueneme.

"He selflessly put his own life at risk in the service of others," Napolitano told mourners.

Meija-Leyva and Beltran-Higuera were arrested several hours later by another Coast Guard crew. The panga boat had multiple bullet holes.

'He is a hero, and we're going to miss him'

A family man from Merritt Island, Fla., Horne entered basic training for the Coast Guard in 1999, according to Coast Guard records. He served on both coasts—at the station and aboard the cutter Dallas in Charleston, S.C.; at the station in Humboldt Bay, Calif.; at the station in Emerald Isle, N.C.; and finally, on the cutter Halibut in Marina del Rey.

Rachel Horne's cousin, Rev. Dave Carpenter of Brentwood Presbyterian Church, described Terrell Horne III as a "head-over-heels smitten dad" and the "epitome of what a good Coast Guard officer should be."

Though Horne was dedicated to his work, he spent "absolutely every minute he could with his wife and children," Carpenter said.

Lt. Stewart Sibert, who skippers the Halibut, called Horne—the boat's executive petty officer, or second-in-command, the crew's "guardian angel."

"I truly feel that the world is a dimmer place without him," Sibert said as he compared Horne to the "kind of chief petty officer that you see in the old war movies: He was a tireless advocate for the crew."

"He did live up to his charge as chief petty officer, and he gave his last full measure of devotion by taking care of the crew that night," Sibert said, his voice catching.

Even during off times, when the Halibut was moored off Catalina Island, Horne was an influence on others.

"We would just listen to each other solve the world's problems," Sibert said. "There was never a problem that (Horne) did not have the answer to."

Master Chief Petty Officer Michael Leavitt, who served with Horne in Humboldt Bay, recalled the senior chief petty officer as a "great Coast Guardsman who made the ultimate sacrifice."

"He was a big, big man who gave so much to everybody," Leavitt said. "He was a great leader and a great person … Senior Chief Horne has touched so many of us in so many different ways, leaving a legacy that will never be forgotten."

In addition to the posthumous Coast Guard Medal and promotion to senior chief petty officer, Horne received the Coast Guard Commendation Medal, a Commandant's Letter of Commendation and a Humanitarian Service Medal. He received the Coast Guard Achievement Medal three times and the Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal four times.

"He would have been a legendary officer-in-charge," said Sibert. "Senior Chief Horne's legacy will live on in the men and women he trained over the years."

Leavitt echoed the sentiment.

"I don't think I've ever been so sad and so proud at the same time," he said. "(Horne) is a hero, and we're going to miss him."

In lieu of flowers, the Coast Guard Foundation urged people to contribute to a Fallen Heroes Scholarship fund for Horne's children. Information is available by calling the foundation at 860-535-0786; or via the website. Donors should select "Fallen Heroes Scholarship" from the "where it is needed most" box, and type "Chief Terrell Horne III" in the "in memory of" box.

Also, checks can be made payable to "Coast Guard Foundation," with "In memory of Chief Terrell Horne III" in the memo line, and sent to the Coast Guard Foundation at 394 Taugwonk Road, Stonington, CT 06378.

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