Watch CBS News

'Big Heart, Big God, Captain America': Fallen Elk Grove Police Officer Ty Lenehan's Church Tribute

SHINGLE SPRINGS (CBS13) -- In a Shingle Springs Baptist church on Saturday night, stories of a man with a big heart, a bigger smile, and a big God were shared between friends who call themselves brothers. The subject of their stories: fallen Elk Grove Police Officer Tyler "Ty" Lenehan.

They met Lenehan 2-3 years ago, but in that time they say they bonded over their mutual journeys of faith and conversations about God. This was a subject this brotherhood talked about at bi-monthly men's group meetings and Sunday morning services at Gold Country Baptist Church.

There is no guesswork in Lenehan's story of faith because he spoke about it publicly and wrote it down. In his own handwriting, he outlines his choice to leave the Mormon Church at 17 and set out on a new journey.

In February 2020, he wrote about his life, his found faith, and his experience when he joined Gold Country Baptist Church. The "Salvation Questionnaire" included his take on the events that led him to start a journey of faith and how he would explain it to others.

Officer Lenehan's Salvation Questionnaire
Officer Ty Lenehan wrote about his faith journey. February 2020.

One question Lenehan addressed: how can you be sure you will go to heaven when your life on earth is over?

His response: "When my entire world crashed around me I prayed to ease my pain. I was completely lifted out of my depression and found love in Christ. I belong to Him and I will serve Him."

This response is one Phil Layton, pastor at Gold Country Baptist Church, said gives their group and their church comfort knowing that Lenehan is, "in a better place than we are."

"He wanted to be a better dad and a better husband, he knew he needed God's grace," said Layton. 

A "larger than life" smile, a big heart and a "big God", he was the group's "Captain America," -- all ways four men, brought together by their faith, describe their "brother in Christ", Lenehan.

Jason Hill, part of Lenehan's core men's group at church, said the 24 hours following Lenehan's death has been surreal. Hill, Layton, Eli Callnon, and Sean Downey went to UC Davis Medical Center on Friday when they learned Lenehan had been hit head-on on Highway 99 by a wrong-way driver on his way to work.

"It was like a dream that I kept wanting to wake up out of because I didn't want to...I didn't want to acknowledge that he was gone," said Hill. 

The four men were part of the procession Friday, alongside local law enforcement, to escort Lenehan's body to the Sacramento County Coroner's Office. Now, they've made promises to each other to support Lenehan's widow, Jessica, and two children, Austin and Sydney.

"It's what he would've wanted," said Hill.

The four men shared one of the things they had spent a year praying on with Lenehan. It was to get his wife, a Sacramento Police Department Officer, on a schedule that would allow her to join him on Sunday mornings at Gold Country Baptist Church as a family. They said he wanted to share the space he loved with the people he loved more frequently.

Two weeks before his death, they said their prayers were answered. Lenehan's family would be able to attend Sunday service with him more regularly, their first Sunday service together was set to be this Sunday, two days after his death.

"God just gave him a really loving compassionate heart. His face just says it all. God had just abundantly loved on him and he just loved to pour that love out on as many people as he could get his hands on," said Downey. 

Lenehan's men's group is prepared to welcome his wife and two children into the church on Sunday.

Lenehan's Faith Journey

In a brief description of the events that led Lenehan to God, the church, and his faith, he writes about his teenage years. In an April 2020 speech at Gold Country Baptist Church's Men's Breakfast, he begins his nearly 20-minute testimony with experiences from the early years of his life.

Gold Country Baptist Church Men's Retreat
Lenehan is pictured with four members of the Gold Country Baptist Church Men's Group on a spiritual retreat in Mendocino.

The following are Lenehan's answers to prompts about his faith.

Give a brief description of the events that led up to your conversion, including the factors that God used to draw you to salvation: 

"I was raised Mormon and left when I was 17. I resisted all religion but had always felt there might be truth in Christ. Christians had prayed for certain things in my life and when they came to fruition I always chalked it up to a coincidence. When I was 40 I started going to Christian churches and prayed and asked how would I know if this was true. Immediately I felt intense love pour over me which made me cry and laugh at the same time.  I have not turned back. No question as to the truth anymore."

How did you become aware of your need for Salvation: 

"I have always been told about the need for salvation. The true and only gospel outlines our need for Christ. Listening to sermons on sermon audio helped me understand. If God is God then it only makes sense it was truly finished wen Jesus said it was finished. Only in arrogance do people believe they need to work for salvation.

Lenehan spoke about coincidences, and that in his life, there was no such thing. The example he shared in that April 2020 speech is retold by his men's group.

In 2020, Lenehan's grandmother died and the funeral was held at Gold Country Baptist Church in Shingle Springs. At the time, he was a new member, and didn't know the history of the church when he attended the funeral.

It was there he was told his grandmother had prayed for years to get him to that church and for him to find his own faith.

"It turned out that his grandmother had gone to this church for many many years and had been praying relentlessly with other elderly faithful women of the church," said Hill, "They came up to him [at the funeral] and said, 'Did you know your grandmother was a member of this Gold Country Baptist Church that he'd just started going to?'" 

"I don't think that's a coincidence," Lenehan would later say to the church's men's group.

Gold Country Baptist Church will hold a memorial for Lenehan soon that will be open to the public. The church has also shared an online tribute for Lenehan.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.