PHOENIX - The family of fallen Phoenix Police Sgt. Sean Drenth remembers him as a devoted husband, a kind friend, a free-spirited prankster, and a hard-working, well-respected police officer. He was an expert with firearms, a lover of animals, and a guitar collector who adored music.
His sudden, violent death on October 18, 2010, has mystified homicide detectives for nearly a year. Drenth was a 12-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department when he was shot to death, on-duty, with his own shotgun.
Homicide investigators have never been able to determine whether his death was the result of a homicide or a suicide, but they are relentlessly digging for clues and following leads, trying to prevent the case from going cold.
“I absolutely, to the day I die – anybody who knew him – there’s absolutely no way that Sean killed himself,” said Diane Drenth, Sean’s mother. “That didn’t happen. That’s not what happened, so the question is who would do this? Why would they do this? Sean had no enemies."
SEAN’S MOTHER REMEMBERS HER ONLY SON
While detectives attempt to determine who pulled the trigger, Diane Drenth tries to focus on the happiness her only child brought to the lives of the people he met.
She smiles when she thinks of Sean’s quirky, funny personality.
“He was born with a sense of humor,” she said, recalling his imaginative childhood.
Diane said Sean would often tell tall tales to his teachers at school – including a made-up story about a brother who had been kept in the closet.
“Sean is an only child (and) always was,” Diane chuckled.
“I (would) go to parent teacher conference, and I (would) never know what stories he told,” she laughed, remembering how teachers would ask her about Sean’s brother and other stories he told.
“He was one of a kind,” she smiled.
Diane said Sean was also very sweet and sensitive. He would often help protect kids who were the target of teasing.
“He always cared about people,” Diane said.
SEAN THE POLICE OFFICER
Sean’s caring nature continued in his police work. He had only been married to his wife, Colleen, for a few months when he decided to become an officer.
“He just liked everything about it,” Colleen said. “He liked helping people. He liked talking to people. He liked going out on calls.”
“I think it was in Sean’s blood. I’m just not sure how it got there,” Diane said, laughing. She said she didn’t encourage the decision, but she was happy when she realized how much he enjoyed the work.
“When he first became a police officer, I was nervous and scared out of my mind,” she said, but he loved it.
“He said, ‘Mom, I can’t believe I get paid to do this job. I can’t believe they pay me to do this job!’” she said.
“Once I understood how much he loved it…all that (nervousness) went away for me,” she explained.
Drenth had been newly assigned to the South Mountain Precinct before his sudden death. He had only worked a few days at the new job, when a night of what appeared to be routine patrolling ended with his death.
He joined the Phoenix Police Department May 18, 1998, and started his career as Neighborhood Enforcement Team patrol officer in the South Mountain Precinct.
In September 2003, he rescued some Phoenix residents from a burning apartment building and as a result, later received the Phoenix Police Department’s Medal of Valor.
He also worked in the Major Offender Unit and at the Squaw Peak Precinct before transferring to back to the South Mountain Precinct approximately one week before his death.
COLLEEN REMEMBERS HER HUSBAND
Colleen said she misses her husband the most at night, when she’s preparing for bed.
“When we first got married,” she said, “he was not used to cuddling up – and I love to cuddle when I go to sleep – and he got used to that pretty quickly. Every night I would cuddle up to him, and I’d fall asleep on his chest when he was home, and that’s what I miss,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Colleen said she talks to Sean all day. “(I tell him that) I miss him. I love him. I wish he was here to help me through some of the things I’ve had to deal with,” she said, explaining that Sean would want her to find a way to have fun and be happy.
“He was fun-loving….He was romantic,” she added. “He would always take care of me. Every night, when we’d go to bed, he’d tell me, ‘You’re the best wife in the whole world.’”
HIGH SCHOOL SWEETHEARTS
Colleen and Sean were married in June 1997 after dating for about five years. They met during Colleen’s freshman year of high school. Sean was a sophomore.
“I liked something about him,” she remembered, “his sense of humor. He made me laugh every time I was near him. The first thing he said to me made me laugh. He made me laugh every day,” she said. “There was something about him that I wanted to get to know better from him.”
Diane said before she ever met Colleen, Sean showed her a picture of Colleen as a teenager. “He said, ‘I am in love with her,’ Diane remembered. ‘Look at her she’s so beautiful.’”
Diane described Sean as “smitten.”