Hundreds honor fallen Grand Prairie police officer. ‘He’s going to be hard to forget’

Hundreds of residents, police and firefighters from across the Metroplex gathered Sunday night at the Grand Prairie Police Department headquarters to honor fallen police officer Albert “A.J.” Castaneda at a vigil.

Castaneda, who was killed Friday when he was hit by a car on the President George Bush Turnpike, was remembered as a man who served his nation and his community above himself, going beyond his duty as a police officer to feed 75 children each Thursday at the recreation center in the Dalworth community of Grand Prairie, where he grew up.

Castaneda had been with the police department for five years. Before that, he spent six years at the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office and had served for eight years with the U.S. Coast Guard.

“There is going to be such a void in our community, but I believe people will come together and do things they wouldn’t normally do in the name of A.J.,” said VanDella Menifee, a member of the Grand Prairie Parks Board and friend of Castaneda. “He never wanted to receive any reward, any acknowledgment for it. He just wanted to do what he loved, and that was serving people.”

Menifee said one of her best memories of Castaneda was meeting him while he brought pizza to the kids in the Dalworth community.

As the sun set, the wind prevented those in attendance from lighting candles. Instead, hundreds of people standing in front of the police department headquarters raised their phones, flashlights on, into the air.

A giant American flag, held high by two fire department ladder trucks, waved behind the audience as Grand Prairie Police Chief Steve Dye spoke about his memories of Castaneda.

He was always happy to be at work, Dye said. Castaneda would pick up extra shifts so other officers could be flexible to attend training seminars or take vacation time.

“He would send these silly messages each day asking everyone how their day was going,” Dye said.

He said Castaneda would regularly tell him there was no place other than the Grand Prairie Police Department he would rather be working.

Community members, law enforcement and firefighters traded stories of their encounters with the fallen officer after the ceremony.

Lance Brantley, a firefighter with the Grand Prairie Fire Department, said Castaneda was always upbeat and motivated in his work.

“He was just always a pleasure to be around,” Brantley said.

Cory Walden, a member of the Grand Prairie YMCA Board, said he considered Castaneda a friend. Walden, like those who spoke during the ceremony, said Castaneda’s heart was in service to the community, however he could do it.

“He had a big heart for serving his community,” Walden said. “He was always friendly. He always had a good attitude.”

Stephanie Martinez, an employee at the Albertsons in Grand Prairie, said Castaneda will be hard to forget.

“There are just way too many stories to tell,” Martinez said. “He was just always there, no matter what we needed, with a big smile on his face. He’s going to be hard to forget.”

Castaneda’s funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at The Potter’s House, 6777 W. Kiest Blvd., Dallas. Visitation is scheduled for 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Wade Family Funeral Home, 4140 W. Pioneer Parkway, Arlington. Private interment will be at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, Dallas.

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James Hartley is the Arlington city government reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He is passionate about local politics, true stories, movies and baseball. He has worked for the Tyler Morning Telegraph, D Magazine and the Dallas Observer. You can connect with James on Twitter @ByJamesHartley or Instagram @JamesTakesPhotos. Want reporters like James to help you stay informed about your community? You can help the Star-Telegram continue to offer great local, political, sports and culture news by purchasing a digital or print subscription today.