Posted: Saturday, May 9, 2015 1:10 am | Updated: 7:03 pm, Sat May 9, 2015.
By MICHAEL DUKES Staff Writer
Who cares about the 127 law enforcement officers that fell in the line of duty, on a national scale, in 2014? Who cares about the 15 serving the state of California who fell over the course of 12 months? Who cares about the 42, to date, that have died nationally?
Who cares about the 39 local peace officers who — from Imperial County Sheriff Julian Abraham Partin in 1920, to Border Patrol Agent Robert Wimer Rosas in 2009 — never came home?
The answer to that question, asked by El Centro Police Chief Eddie Madueño on the steps of Imperial County Courthouse on a blustery Friday evening in that city, was resoundingly, “We do.”
That “we” were the hundreds that gathered to shut down Main Street for the seventh annual Imperial Valley Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony, which sought to honor every peacekeeping man and woman that has paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of the 175,000 residents of Imperial County.
Since the first recorded line-of-duty death in 1791, more than 19,000 U.S. law enforcement officers have paid the ultimate sacrifice, reported a press release by the society of the same name. The Valley experienced its first loss in 1920 when Partin was shot and killed by a Winterhaven barman, and at a time when law enforcement agencies around the country are facing intense scrutiny, Madueño said that though there are, of course, rotten apples in every barrel, there has never been a more appropriate time to remind the populace who the good guys really are.
“There are many in this country, from public officials to members of the media, who are attempting to demonize American law-enforcement officers with well-covered stories of crowds demanding justice,” Madueño said to those assembled beneath the columns and flag flying at half-staff. “We have heard chants of, ‘What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!’”
Listeners had little trouble hearing the quelled rage in the chief’s voice. Minutes later, having steadied his force, Madueño — who recites a prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, patron saint of policemen every day as he heads to work — gave a stern warning to those who might be considering a career in law enforcement: “Do not enter into this profession if your goal is to become wealthy, to become popular, or if you don’t have the stomach to encounter on a daily basis the evil that walks our streets.
“Do pursue this career if you have a genuine desire to serve and protect your fellow man, if you’re willing to lay down your life, and if you’re willing to hold yourself to a higher standard, which includes honor, integrity and respect. Know that you will have to protect those who resent you, even as you walk that thin line that separates good from evil.”
Subsequently, Commander Ronald Cox, chaplain of the El Centro Naval Air Facility, drew from Psalm 40 in his convocation, part of which reads, “May all who want to take my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace.”
Family members of the fallen lined the front row, some of whom included the mother and brother of former ECPD Police Officer Aaron Garcia, who lost his life in a traffic collision while a member of the Union Pacific Railroad Police. His brother, Art, stood and spoke during a period set aside for public comments. Also numbered among the survivors was San Diego Superior Court Judge Enrique Camarena, son of DEA agent Enrique S. Camarena, whose 1985 kidnapping and murder at the hands of the Guadalajara Cartel drew national attention.
While Garcia brought forth moments of levity with recollections of his relationship with his brother, who would call him daily just to check on him, Camarena arguably gave the most emotionally charged speech of the night.
“I really do love attending these events. They’re painful, but … it brings us together as a community to celebrate and honor our heroes,” he said. “But please remember these deaths represent only a small part of their stories. We remember (the fallen) not just as heroes, colleagues, friends or dads. We remember the memories of laughter we shared with them — memories of joking, of dinnertime, of holiday get-togethers, of playing outside.”
It was here that, turning his head aside to stare into the wind, that emotion began to choke Judge Camarena. “Inevitably,” he continued, “we’ll painfully think of the memories that never came to be, and in many ways, that’s heavier on the soul than trying to remember things we might have forgotten.”
Elementally, the occasion was singularly haunting, yet profound. The ceremony had it all — the presentation of the colors by the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation Color Guard, the singing of the national anthem by the Southwest High SAVAPA choir, 21-gun salute by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Honor Guard, “Amazing Grace” by the Border Patrol Pipes, a moment of silence and a lighted vigil by the entire assemblage and a passing of the riderless horse, which has a history dating back to ancient Rome.
Perhaps most chilling, however, was the reading of the 39 names. Following the pronouncement by CBP Assistant Port Director Martin Cuesta, a member of that officer’s respective agency stepped forward to ring a silver bell and assume a forward-facing position on the steps behind.
“Law enforcement is a challenging career and it’s a true privilege to honor each of these 39 members for their service and extend the utmost respect to their loves ones for their memories and sacrifice,” said IVLEM Committee Chairperson Wesley Boerner, with the California Highway Patrol. “We try to think of them as still being a part of our family.”
The IVLEM diligently commemorates those who have passed on and those who continue to serve. It invites anyone who would like to contribute financially to the future addition of a memorial to Pioneers Museum in Imperial to contact the committee at email@example.com
Also, visit the IVLEM website at ivlem.net
Staff Writer Michael Dukes can be reached at 760-337-3440 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please visit the “IV FALLEN OFFICERS” page to view list of officers honored at the ceremony.
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*For more information or to make donations, write to the IVLEM Committee at: email@example.com
Donations can also be made through the Imperial County Historical Society:
373 E. Aten Rd, Imperial, CA 92251-9653
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