Officers killed on duty affect entire community

The entire Rio Grande Valley mourns the loss of two McAllen police officers who were fatally shot Saturday afternoon.

Police Chief Victor Rodriguez said Edelmiro Garza Jr., 45, and Ismael Chavez Jr., 39, were ambushed as they responded to a domestic disturbance call. The suspect, Audon Ignacio Camarillo, 23, later shot and killed himself, Rodriguez said.

Their deaths, and the outpouring of prayers from the community, come among ongoing nationwide protests against isolated cases of police brutality, misconduct and racism.

In an area like the Valley, however, where people seem to know their neighbors more closely than in many other parts of the country, we all suffer the losses of people who were family, friends and classmates. Garza’s wife also is a police officer; Chavez joined the force 2½ years ago after serving as a teacher and coach in the Weslaco school district for several years.

They are the third and fourth Valley law enforcement officers killed while on duty in little more than a year. Mission police Cpl. Jose Luis “Speedy” Espericueta was fatally shot in an exchange of gunfire in June 2019 as he responded to another officer’s request for assistance in Mission.

Espericueta had served in Valley law enforcement for 18 years. State Trooper Moises Sanchez died in August 2019, four months after he was shot while responding to a hit-andrun auto accident in north McAllen. He was 49.

We note the four deaths in one year; in the entire state of Texas during 2019, a total of 19 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty.

It’s been said many times that every police officer constantly has to deal with the possibility that each shift might be his or her last. They never know what they will face when they answer a call — officers have been gunned down or even run over while approaching vehicles on routine traffic stops. That’s a heavy burden to bear, one that would be too much for many of us.

The course of their work far too often taxes their physical and emotional strength; after all, suspects don’t want to be caught and those who are don’t want to be arrested; some resist, and some resort to violence or possibly lethal attacks against the officer.

It’s hardly surprising that some officers might succumb to the pressure and overreact in some tense situations. We trust that adequate support and counseling are available when they need it.

Fortunately, the Valley has been relatively free from the kinds of scandals that have prompted the protests and demands for reform we see in other parts of the country. That is much to the credit of the officers, their supervisors and those who have trained them.

We as a community send our prayers out to the families of the fallen officers, their comrades in arms, friends and all who are affected by this loss.

This tragedy reminds us that law enforcement is not a nameless, faceless institution; it is a collection of men and women who knowingly accept risks that include even death in the name of making our community a safer place to live. We are forever grateful.