Mourners gathered outside the El Monte Police Department on Wednesday to stand in solidarity with the families of two officers killed in the line of duty.
A bronzed bald eagle statue, inscribed with the phrase “in memory of those who serve that the world might live in peace,” sat adorned with sympathy sprays and messages of comfort.
Officers from police departments around Los Angeles County gathered to offer support and condolences to families of the servicemen lost: Cpl. Michael Domingo Paredes, 42, and Officer Joseph Anthony Santana, 31.
Officers from the nearby South Gate Police Department were among the many gatherers.
“We just came down here to show our support for the San Gabriel Valley, the El Monte Police department and this community that’s suffering,” said South Gate Police Chief Darren Arakawa. “It’s just a tragedy.”
Arakawa added that the loss of two officers at once — in the manner that the El Monte officers were killed — is unusual, and takes a significant toll on both the department and the community.
“There’s a big understanding of how close people are in the organization, so to lose someone is like losing an extended family member,” Arakawa said.
It’s important, Arakawa said, to remember the sacrifices the two officers made in the line of duty.
“Never take for granted what police officers do every day – there are no guarantees that anyone will go home.”
Arakawa added that in El Monte, the community relationship with the police department is strong — and he believes the community is suffering with the recent loss as well.
“We just want to pray for the families,” Arakawa said, “and help them get through some of the most difficult days they have coming up.”
Just hours after the news of the officers’ death came out Tuesday evening, members of the community initiated the small beginnings of the memorial site. By mid-afternoon the next day, as visitors continued to pour in to pay their respects, the monument had nearly tripled in size.
Some wept, while others stood in a morose and solitary moment of silence.
El Monte’s police department and city staff, LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Los Angeles Metro, the East LA County Sheriff’s Department, and the Oxnard PD were just a few of the many entities that left mementos in honor of the two officers throughout the day.
Just a few hundred feet away, some placed candles and roses in front of El Monte’s Lady Liberty statue — which is backgrounded by a mural memorializing four other El Monte officers killed in the line of duty from 1974-2005.
The day’s feeling — overwhelmingly one of grief — was underpinned by a few residents’ deep concern that they may have known the officers killed. The El Monte Police Department didn’t identify the pair until late afternoon.
Earlier in the day, Manuel Martinez, an El Monte resident since 1962 with deep ties to the community and the police department, hovered on the outskirts of the memorial — watching from a distance.
Instead, he lingered at the department’s driveway, nervously pacing and keeping an eye out for any El Monte PD vehicles turning into the parking lot. He feared that two of his family members who serve in the department might have been killed, and hoped to get talk to any officer that might be able shed some light on the situation.
“I know people that work here,” Martinez said. “It breaks my heart, it really does.”
Mid-conversation, Martinez flagged down an El Monte police car making its way into the parking lot. The officers confirmed that his relatives weren’t hurt, Martinez said — a much needed reprieve from the anxiety that had brought him there.
But despite confirming that his relatives were safe, Martinez said he’s still hurting.
“This should never have happened — not two officers,” he said. “It’s a real blow to the community.”
Virginia Recendez, another longtime El Monte resident and mother of a firefighter based in San Francisco, echoed Martinez’s pain.
“It’s a shock and it’s heartbreaking,” Recendez said, through choked-back tears. “I can’t imagine the family going through such darkness. I pray everyday for them.”
She spoke about the constant fear she experiences for her own son — knowing that the same thing could happen to him at any time.
“They put their lives on line and they have families to go home to,” Recendez said. “As a mother it’s hard to get this tragic news — it doesn’t matter what department they’re in.”
The killings of Paredes and Santana are emblematic of the damage that lax gun control policies nationwide are causing, Recendez said. She mentioned that the recent shooting in Uvalde, Texas — that left 19 elementary school children and 2 teachers dead — combined with the El Monte shooting, have made her afraid.
“It’s a difficult time, my heart is hurting,” Recendez said. “You take a child to school hoping it’s a safe environment. They had hopes and dreams.”
But despite the despair, she said, the community coming together to honor and mourn Parades and Santana offered some comfort.
“It’s beautiful that all different communities are coming together,” Recendez said. “You always hope for the best.”
Source: Orange County Register