A Wednesday get-together celebrating his daughter’s return from a church mission was a family reunion of sorts for Larry Burns. The Metro Police veteran’s final hours were spent surrounded by loves ones, and were likely some of his most joyous.
The home gathering brought together immediate family members as well as some out-of-towners, said Bryce Bergquist, Burns’ brother-in-law.
Burns, a retired Metro captain who ran unsuccessfully for Clark County sheriff in 2014, died unexpectedly Thursday morning in his sleep as the result of a medical condition.
He was 61.
A Metro procession led the cop’s body from a hospital to a funeral home, Bergquist said. An American flag was draped over his casket. An honor guard presented colors.
Burns, who fell asleep at his home and didn’t wake up, ended his 27-year career with Metro in 2013 as head of the Bolden Area Command, a central valley substation.
During his time as captain, he helped spearhead the Safe Village Initiative in the Sherman Gardens public housing complex. The project, which earned Burns a Metro commendation, teamed police, community agencies and faith-based organizations to help reduce crime.
“Burns was known for his warm and gregarious personality, his community service and his generosity,” Metro said in a statement.
Steve Grammas, president of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which endorsed Burns for sheriff, said Burns was “a great leader and friend to everyone who worked around him and for him ... He leaves behind an amazing legacy on this department as well as this community.”
He described him as a “phenomenal” man respected by all Metro officers.
In a heartfelt post, the Metro Bolden substation took to Facebook to describe Burns as a “legend.” “He was a Bolden staple who worked tirelessly to improve the relationship between police and the community and is loved by the Historic Westside.”
Burns is still fondly remembered as an outstanding manager of people and a “genuine friend,” who as leader had an open-door policy, the post went on to say. His name is “synonymous with leadership.”
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman tweeted that she was saddened by Burns’ passing. “My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his (Metro) family.”
North Las Vegas Police tweeted their condolences. “The #thinblueline runs deep with our neighboring departments and we loved working side by side with this great man.”
Burns, who was Metro’s SWAT commander for seven years and had a brief stint as a lieutenant before being promoted to captain, entered the race for sheriff after former Sheriff Doug Gillespie announced he wouldn’t seek a third term.
“I hadn’t thought about it in any serious way until he made that announcement,” Burns told the Sun in 2013. The LVPCA, the union that represents officers, endorsed him. He lost to now-Sheriff Joe Lombardo.
Burns was a man of integrity and “one of the most humble guys I’ve ever met,” Lombardo said Thursday evening. Their time together as colleagues, Lombardo said, was positive.
Not only was he a pillar in the law enforcement profession, Lombardo said about Burns, but also an important contributor to the Southern Nevada community, and his church. “It’s a tragedy that he’s passed at such a young age,” the sheriff said.
Burns is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Ann Burns, and seven children. An eighth child died shortly after birth. He had four grandchildren and was awaiting the arrival of a fifth, Metro said.
Burns was raised in Maine. After high school, he enrolled at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. After two years there, he left to serve a two-year mission in Ecuador for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He moved to Las Vegas in 1980 and worked in construction before Metro hired him.
In his youth, during brutal winters in Maine where sleds were the only way to get around, Burns started a business delivering groceries.
Bergquist, whose sister married Burns, met him about 40 years ago when the young couple began to date. He was like an older brother, Bergquist said.
He remembers a public servant who took immense pride in being a police officer. And Burns would share that knowledge in “fireside” presentations to youth organized by the church.
Burns spoke hundreds of times, if not thousands, explaining to youth how being a cop had allowed him to be part of something bigger than himself and how they also could contribute to this world, Bergquist said.
Beyond church and the police department, Burns cherished time with family above all, Bergquist said. Even though the family is mourning the sudden loss, the brother-in-law said it was a blessing that Burns was able to reminisce with them, all together, one last time.