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Hundreds of people gathered in El Monte, California, to remember two police officers who were killed during a shootout last week.
“Even down to the last moments of their lives, Mike and Joseph proved they were men of character,” Ben Lowry, acting El Monte police chief, said at the vigil Saturday. “They were the best of us. They were the greatest of us. I’m a better man having known each of them.”
El Monte Cpl. Michael Paredes, 42, and Officer Joseph Santana, 31, were shot and killed last Tuesday evening after responding to a report of a stabbing at a motel. Paredes and Santana reportedly approached suspect Justin William Flores, 35, who led to a shootout.
The two officers were pronounced dead at a local Los Angeles area hospital, while Flores died by suicide after turning the gun on himself, according to the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s office.
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The vigil was held Saturday evening at El Monte’s civic center where the families of the fallen officers read memories of the men, other law enforcement officers paid their respects, and even comfort dogs were present to offer support to those grieving.
At one point, Santana’s brother-in-law read a letter penned by the fallen officer’s widow to those gathered.
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“Every inch of my body is broken missing you,” Mark Jimenez said while reading his sister’s letter. “I miss your kisses, your cuddles, your voice. I miss seeing you playing with the kids.”
“I never knew this level of pain existed.”
Paredes’s sister also spoke at the vigil and celebrated her brother’s “huge heart.”
“Michael had a huge heart,” Paredes’ sister Melissa Valencia said. “Big hugs for everyone, and that perfect smile that he was known for by all.”
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The killings have sparked fury at Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, as the suspect was a gang member who was on probation at the time of the shooting after he was given a plea deal by Gascon’s office for a weapons charge.
“I blame the death of my son and his partner on Gascón,” Santana’s mother Olga Garcia said at a press conference last week. “Gascón will never know how I feel. Gascón will never know how he destroyed our families. He won’t know how his (Santana’s) children feel. Crime is so high in California because criminals do not stay in jail long enough. We need to make criminals responsible for their actions. We need law and order. “
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Gascon is currently facing a recall effort and supporters of the movement were spotted at the vigil calling for Gascon to be recalled “now.”