EL MONTE, Calif. (AP) — Hundreds of people turned out for a candlelight vigil honoring two Southern California police officers slain last week while investigating a report of a possible stabbing.
El Monte Police Department Officer Joseph Santana, 31, and Cpl. Michael Paredes, 42. were fatally shot Tuesday outside a suburban motel east of Los Angeles.
They were memorialized Saturday evening at El Monte's civic center by city residents, community leaders, family members and fellow police officers.
Acting police chief Ben Lowry praised the fallen officers for their character and bravery, and said they would not be forgotten.
“They were the best of us. They were the greatest of us. I’m a better man having known each of them," Lowry said.
Both men were raised in El Monte, where mourners placed flowers and messages of thanks outside the police station in the city of 107,000 people. They became only the third and fourth officers in the El Monte Police Department’s history to die in the line of duty.
Justin Flores, the 35-year-old gunman who killed the officers, died of a gunshot wound to the head and the manner of death was suicide, a coroner’s report said Saturday.
The officers were sent to the motel to investigate a report that a woman had possibly been stabbed.
Sheriff’s homicide Capt. Andrew Meyer has said that the officers confronted the suspect and gunfire erupted inside the motel room. The gunman ran outside and more gunfire was exchanged with other officers.
Flores was on probation for a gun charge at the time of the shooting, which occurred a day after his probation officer requested that he return to court later in the month, court records show.
Santana leaves behind his wife, a daughter and two twin boys. Paredes is survived by his wife, a daughter and a son.
Paredes' sister, Melissa Valencia, said her brother gave big hugs and always had a wide smile. She urged his children to find inspiration in his public service.
“Choose your path in life, choose leadership and choose to be the change this community needs, just like Michael did,” Valencia said during the vigil.
The Peace Officers Research Association of California established a fundraising campaign on behalf of the officers’ families.