PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Family, friends and fellow law enforcement officers gathered Tuesday to bid farewell to a Philadelphia police officer killed in an airport parking garage shooting that also wounded another officer earlier this month.
Interim Police Commissioner John Stanford announced Tuesday at the service at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia that slain officer Richard Mendez had been posthumously promoted to sergeant and awarded several medals.
Mendez and Officer Raul Ortiz had just started their shift around 11 p.m. on Oct. 12 when they heard breaking glass and saw several people breaking into a car in the parking lot at Philadelphia International Airport, police said. A confrontation ensued and the two officers and one of the suspects were shot. Mendez, 50, was shot four times and pronounced dead at a hospital, police said. Ortiz was shot once in the arm.
Stanford said Mendez was described by family and friends as “a great son, an amazing husband, a loving father, and an awesome friend.” He said the officer had not become a hero on the night of his death but more than two decades earlier “when he entered the Philadelphia police department and decided to dedicate his life to public service for 22 years.”
Mendez’s daughter Mia, 19, a Temple University senior, said her father was proud of having earned college degrees including a master’s in business administration and had planned to return to the classroom to teach after he retired.
He was a “kind, loving, patient and humble” man who “did everything to support his family and his fellow officers,” she said.
She emotionally described “the hardest night of my life” seeing her father’s body less than two hours after he had kissed her and her mother goodnight as he left for work. Surviving without him would be difficult for both, she said, “but we know he wouldn’t want us to give up, so we won’t.”
But she said she was increasingly concerned about an apparent rise in crime in the city with criminals seeming to have little fear of consequences. And now, she said, “the strongest man in my life – my hero, my rock, my daddy — was taken from me, from us, and I’m unbelievably scared.”
After the service, a large crowd of uniformed officers saluted as the flag-draped coffin was carried out and a procession to Forrest Hills Cemetery in northeast Philadelphia began.
Three men — Alexander Batista-Polanco, 21, of Scranton, Pennsylvania; Hendrick Peña-Fernandez, 21, of Pennsauken, New Jersey; and Yobranny Martinez Fernandez, 18, of Camden County, New Jersey — have been arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder. A fourth suspect, 18-year-old Jesus Herman Madera Duran, was shot during the confrontation and died at a hospital after being dropped off by his cohorts, police said.
Police believe one of the suspects alone fired the bullets that hit the two officers and Madera Duran, but they have left it up to prosecutors to detail exactly what happened. First Deputy Commissioner Frank Vanore said police believe the officers were trying to detain at least one suspect when “someone came behind (Mendez) and fired a weapon.”
In addition to the three prime suspects, police are pursuing others who either assisted the suspects or tried to obstruct the investigation, including those involved in burning a vehicle and renting hotel rooms and those who “knew where people were and didn’t tell us,” Vanore said last week. Investigators were also still searching for the slain officer’s gun, which they don’t believe was fired, he said.