A hero who always wore a smile: Vigil held for slain Dallas police officer

If you ever had the chance to come across slain Dallas Police Department officer Rogelio Santander, 27, it's a safe bet that he would have been smiling.

That's how friends and colleagues of Santander described him to nearly 2,000 people who attended a candlelight vigil in his honor on Thursday night at the Northeast Division police station where he worked.

Santander died from injuries he sustained Tuesday while responding to a call at a Home Depot in northeast Dallas. His partner, Crystal Almeida was injured in the shooting.

The vigil began at 7:30 p.m. with a prayer, then Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings took the podium and offered his deepest sympathy to Santander's family and colleagues. He followed with a stern message to the community about how they can help police prevent tragedies like this one from happening again.

"We need to take stock in ourselves as citizens. We have to realize that we need to look at ourselves in the mirror because sometimes we fall a little too short," he said. "I hear too often, 'I see too much on the streets of Dallas and in media that I like the police but, but, but.' The buts must stop. We must honor and revere these men and women day in and day out."

Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall talked about Santander's resolve. She said his passion to become a police officer began when he was in the sixth grade at Edward Tiche Elementary School in Dallas.

"His first inspiration came from the Dallas Police Department with Officer Bennett," Hall said. "Officer Bennett arrived at his elementary school to speak to his class about dangerous drugs. He said Officer Bennett had a presence like no other that commanded respect.

"That presence is what each and everyone of you have each and every time you put on this uniform," she said.

Those in attendance brought flowers, cards and signs to place on a Dallas police squad car set up as a memorial on the lawn of the northeast station after Santander's death Wednesday.

At least 4,500 white candles, cups and cards prepared by the Dallas Police Association Spouses and donated by the First Baptist Wiley Church were given to community members as they entered the gates of the ceremony.

The vigil was organized by the Dallas Police Association, FOP 588, National Latino Law Enforcement Organization, Black Police Association of Greater Dallas, along with the Dallas Police Department.

Thirty of Santander's relatives filled the front three rows in front of the podium set up under the foyer near the rear of the station. Several of Almeida's family members were present along with five of Home Depot loss-prevention officer Scott Painter's family. Painter was also injured in the shooting Tuesday. Both he and Almeida remain hospitalized but were said to be improving on Friday.

Members of Santander's recruitment class stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a navy blue and yellow ribbon draped around their necks, the blue representing officers and yellow signifying citizens.

Nearly 100 Home Depot employees also attended and gave Santander's family an apron signed by each employee to honor him.

Dallas police Sgt. Shannon Smith and Tim Lewis shared stories about Santander and Almeida, who were partners and best friends, such as the time Santander couldn't find his patrol car.

Others said Santander had a love of fast cars.

As the sky darkened, the candles lit the foyer as the sounds of bagpipes echoed through the parking lot, ending the ceremony.

Funeral services for Santander will be Tuesday, May 1, at 11 a.m. at the Lake Pointe Church, 701 East I-30 in Rockwall. Burial will follow in the Garden of Honor at Restland Cemetery.

A private mass will be held on Monday at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral, 2215 Ross Avenue in Dallas. A public visitation will be held the same day from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the cathedral.

A number of Fort Worth Police Department officers will attend Santander's viewing and funeral service, the department said. They will also be serving as hosts for out-of-state agencies sending officers to pay respects.

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