BADGE 2183, ID 5435
SDPD 12/01/1997 - 08/21/2020
04/24/1976 - 08/21/2020
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Daughter of Det. Paul Olson, SDPD Ret.
Shelly Luna , 44, was assigned to the SDPD’s missing persons unit.
She died Aug. 21

By Teri Figueroa

Detective Shelly Luna was known for her tenacity, her intuition and her kindness.

She helped find missing people. She reunited children with parents. Her supervisor noted that a few minutes of Luna’s questioning once led to a suspect’s tearful confession.

Luna gave everything her all, the supervisor recalled last week. Even when she was seriously ill, she had her bicycle mounted with a motor so she could ride alongside marchers on a three-day breast-cancer awareness event.

Luna was 44 years old, married and the mother of three children when she died Aug. 21 from what San Diego police Lt. Matt Dobbs said were complications from ongoing medical issues. In 2014, the Union-Tribune wrote about Luna and her then-recent diagnosis of liver failure.

“Shelly was an exceptional detective, but even a better person,” Dobbs wrote in a note sharing his thoughts on Luna, whom he supervised for years. “Shelly was the truest example of joy, no matter what she was going through. Every time you interacted with Shelly, your day was better and the world seemed brighter.”

The department issued a statement this week calling Luna “a beloved member of the San Diego Police Department family.”

“Her dedication to community service was unmatched as she fought to find answers for those missing loved ones,” the statement read. “She will be dearly missed.”

Luna became a police officer in 1997, following her father into the field. She would spend half of her life — 22 years — as a San Diego police officer.

She worked in several areas, from patrol to the Juvenile Services Team to investigations in Mid-City Division to her final assignment as a detective in the Homicide/Missing Persons Unit.

“It was kind of her calling,’ Dobbs said. “She felt she could make an impact there.”

A few years back, Luna investigated when a San Diego woman went missing. The woman had gone to Utah for a solo hike, but ended up stuck on a cliff with little cellphone reception. Luna figured it out and got help to her.

In another case, she investigated after a child had been stolen from her mother by her paternal grandparents. Luna eventually learned the couple had changed their appearances and that of their grandchild, and had plane tickets to leave the country. She found them and stopped them.

In 2014, Dobbs was assigned as the lieutenant of the homicide unit, putting him in charge of Luna’s unit. He said that if she knocked on his door, he paid attention. She had long before earned his trust.

“By the time she came to you and said, ‘I smell a rat,’ it was like ‘Let’s assign it to a team and go for it,’” he said.

In 2017, Pacific Beach resident Peter Bentz, 69, failed to show up at his brother’s house for Thanksgiving. It quickly became clear to Luna that Bentz was likely a victim of foul play. His credit cards had been used to buy a shovel, an electric saw, a hatchet and cleaning products.

After a long investigation, police arrested one of Bentz’s acquaintances on suspicion of murder, even though Bentz body remained missing. The suspect was later convicted and sentenced to 83 years to life. With a stroke of luck, some of Bentz’s buried remains were recovered.

Without Luna’s intuition and investigative skills, Dobbs said, the case would likely have gone unsolved.

He said she watched out for the community, too, coordinating one of the department’s holiday toy drives. And if the donations for kids in need fell short, she pulled out her wallet.

She handled it all while living with a serious illness. Even though Luna was often in great pain, she kept working, Dobbs said.

And through it all, her family remained her top priority. Dobbs said her desk was a “shrine to her children and her family and their trips and adventures.”

During that three-day breast cancer event, the motor affixed to her bike broke down. Dobbs said she hopped off and pushed it, even up hills. All with a smile on her face.

That, he said, was pure Shelly Luna.
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