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Camp Pendleton Marine killed in San Diego had plans to join law enforcement

Lance Cpl. Ryan Harris was killed in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter as he tried to break up a fight. He leaves behind an 18 year-old wife, who was his high school sweetheart.

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By ERIKA I. RITCHIE | The Orange County Register (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 3, 2018

Lance Cpl. Ryan Harris planned to join the California Highway Patrol after completing four years in the Marine Corps.

Those plans came to a tragic end early Dec. 29 when he was killed in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter as he tried to break up a fight, police said.

Harris, 21, from the small Northern California town of Elverta, and his wife, Amber, had visited family over Christmas. He returned to check on his cats at his Oceanside home Dec. 28, said his brother-in-law Koert Spears, of Sacramento.

“He was planning to head back up to Elverta for the weekend,” Spears said.

On Thursday night, Harris, who was stationed at Camp Pendleton, joined two other Marines and a long-time friend from Elverta for an evening out in the Gaslamp Quarter, said San Diego Police Lt. Todd Griffin.

That outing turned tragic around 1 a.m. Friday morning, when the group headed toward a parking lot looking for their car to go home, Griffin said.

“One of the guys in the group was walking ahead just across the street and was confronted by two men who punched him and knocked him down,” Griffin said. “The other three, including Harris, went to intervene and that was when the first suspect began slashing them with a knife.”

Harris was stabbed at least once in the upper torso, Griffin said.

Bystanders called police. When they arrived, Harris was on the ground, Griffin said. Police and two bystanders performed CPR until paramedics arrived, he said, but Harris died at the scene.

“He was a great guy and just wanted to help people,” Spears said. “That’s why he got into the Marine Corps. It’s just terrible.”

The man who was attacked first, Andrew Halman, Harris’ best friend since grade school, was stabbed in the back and the front of the abdomen, Griffin said. He was taken to a hospital where he underwent surgery and is expected to survive, he said.

Around 11 p.m Saturday, San Diego police arrested two men as suspects in Harris’ death.

Jose Oscar Esqueda, 30, of San Diego was booked on suspicion of murder, attempted murder, and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. Jeff Shai Holliday, 24, of San Diego, was booked on suspicion of murder, assault with a deadly weapon, battery, and a probation violation.

Harris was raised from infancy by his grandparents Larry and Dianna Holt in Elverta. He attended East Nicholas High School and joined the Marine Corps after graduation with plans of joining the CHP.

“When he came here for Christmas to open his presents, we talked about him becoming a highway patrolman for quite awhile,” said Larry Holt. “He had a year-and-a-half left. He wanted to continue with his service. He took great pride in helping people.”

Holt said he knew in his heart even before the official police report was done that his grandson, whom he calls his son, died helping someone and not from instigating a fight.

“He was one of the most caring kids I’ve ever seen,” Holt said, choking back tears. “He always put other people ahead of himself. He was always helping the underdog.”

Holt recounted the story of a young man who on Monday visited his home following news of Harris’ death.

“He told us, ‘You may not remember me but Ryan was always the one who looked out for me and included me in swim parties and birthday parties when others didn’t,’ Holt recalled. “Ryan was just that kind of kid.”

Harris grew up on five acres. He loved the outdoors and animals. He was passionate about baseball — something he and Holt spent a lot of time playing. He carried that enthusiasm with him to the Marine Corps and played third base and pitched for a church league in Oceanside.

It was his grandfather’s service as an infantryman for the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1967-68, that prompted Harris to join the military, Holt said.

Holt was awarded a Purple Heart.

“He always admired that and my patriotism,” Holt said. “He was proud when we would go around and people would thank me for my service.”

Harris and his future wife, Amber, met in high school and reconnected after Harris joined the Marine Corps. Spears, who is married to Amber Harris’ sister, has set up a GoFundMe page to help with her expenses. According to Spears, Harris never updated his paperwork to list Amber as his beneficiary — meaning she is responsible for the couple's finances without assistance from Harris' military benefits.

The couple married in March 2017.

Amber Harris, 18, first learned of her husband’s death from six of his friends who came to talk to her Friday morning while she was staying at her father’s home, Spears said. She was later visited by officers from the Marine Corps.

“She was in shock and couldn’t process what they told her,” Spears said. “She is very distraught.”

Marine Corps records show that Harris served as an automotive mechanic with the 1st Maintenance Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment, 1st Marine Logistics Group at Camp Pendleton.

He deployed to the Middle East this summer, Holt said.

“A lot of people look for a hero,” he said. “We told him, we raised a hero. He was my hero. If anyone had a son, they would want him to be like Ryan.”

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©2018 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
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