After two El Monte police officers were fatally shot Tuesday during a confrontation with a suspect, their colleagues soon received support and comfort from local clergy.
Three members of the police department’s Chaplaincy Corps arrived at the police station on Valley Boulevard that night.
At the time, the officers had been reported as wounded, according to George Ussery, who was one of the three pastors. Ussery has been a member of the Chaplaincy Corps for 25 years.
“We gathered with employees at the station to talk and pray together,” he said.
Cpl. Michael Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana later died at Los Angeles County USC Medical Center. Ussery said he went with officers as the bodies were escorted from the hospital to the coroner’s office.
Manny Coronilla, pastor of Calvary Chapel El Monte and a member of the Chaplaincy Corps for about 15 years, said he received a text message Tuesday from the officer who is the coordinator of the corps. He contacted all the chaplains. He and two others were able to make it to the station that night.
But even if they didn’t receive a text, he said they would have responded.
Coronilla, who also went to the station Wednesday, plans to attend the candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. Saturday at the front steps of the Civic Center.
“The chaplains offer spiritual support. It’s basically us making ourselves available to any officers that need prayer or maybe they just need to talk to anybody,” Coronilla said.
“It’s been tough on everybody,” he said.
Local clergy are not the only ones offering support to officers.
Chaplains from different cities have also been to the station as well, according to Lt. Pete Rasic.
“I have peer support and trauma (support) from all over the San Gabriel Valley,” he said.
Other police agencies under mutual aid are patrolling the city. Different agencies have come in offering food, moral support and therapy dogs, Alma K Martinez, El Monte City manager, said.
The city has grief counselors on-site for officers, for families of the two officers and city employees, she added. While CIty Hall offices will be closed Monday, staff and city employees can attend counseling sessions, one-on-one or in a group, at four locations.
“We’re struggling for sure,” Officer Ron Danison, president of the El Monte Police Officers Association, said. The union has about 100 members from sergeants on down.
“I would say the only thing keeping me going personally is I’m busy,” he said.
Paredes’ locker is right next to his locke,r which is a constant reminder, Danison said. There is an American flag over Paredes’ locker, he said.
He knows officers have come in for a group session. There is a stigma about law enforcement reaching out for help, he added. His colleagues are breaking that perception, he said.
He pointed out that the last time an El Monte officer was fatally gunned down was in 1974.
Officer Manuel Anthony Arceo, 31, was the first El Monte officer to die in the line of duty. On July 9, 1974, he went to nearby Baldwin Park where there was an armed barricaded suspect at a pawn shop.
A man entered the shop on Ramona Boulevard, took a machete and threatened the owner. But he declined the money she offered and said he wanted guns to kill officers, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. The man went outside and shot at officers. A ricochet round from another officer hit Arceo. Police shot and killed the armed suspect.
Nearly 48 years after Arceo died, the department lost two officers in one night.
On Tuesday night, Paredes and Santana went to the Siesta Inn at 10327 Garvey Ave. on a welfare check of a woman who was possibly stabbed, authorities have said. They encountered 35-year-old Justin Flores of Whittier. There were two shootings – one inside the motel and the second in the parking lot. Flores was pronounced dead there.
There is a deep bond among officers, according to Coronilla. He saw some of the officers crying when he was at the station this week.
“You feel the heartache,” Coronilla said.
The El Monte Police Department Chaplaincy Corps was created in 1997 after two local pastors talked to then Chief Wayne Clayton about a chaplain program, according to Ussery.
Their roles are listed in the city website and include: visiting sick and injured officers and department personnel at home and in hospitals, assist officers in making death notifications, provide assistance to victims and witnesses, provide services for funerals and weddings as requested, serve as part of the “Area D” Crisis Response Team and ride along with officers and help provide family domestic spiritual counseling