Fighting back tears, Shelly Moreno stepped to the podium to talk about her fallen hero, her husband and the father of her two children.
She responded to the challenge, just as Diego Moreno did so many times as a decorated police officer.
“Diego was a wonderful person, and I am happy to honor him with you this evening,” an emotional but poised Shelly Moreno told a large gathering of family, friends and supporters at a community vigil in the Town Square Plaza on Wednesday.
The vigil included prayer and song, speakers and a candle-lit moment in honor of Officer Moreno on an evening in which the crowd tucked into the shade of the plaza, a respite from the day’s heat.
“I have received so much love and support,” Shelly Moreno said. “I want to take a moment to express my sincere gratitude. Thank you to my entire Kent Police family for your prayers and unwavering support. Thank you for grieving with me. Your presence calms my sorrow.
“Thank you to everyone who has reached out. I have read every message, card and comment. Thank you for thinking of us at this time,” she said. “Let’s remember the times of love and laughter and heal each other.”
Officer Diego Moreno, 35, an eight-year veteran on the force who lived in Auburn, was killed in the line of duty early Sunday morning. Moreno died when he was accidentally struck by a pursuing Kent Police SUV after laying out a strip of spikes to slow a fleeing pickup.
The driver of the truck, 16-year-old Emiliano Garcia, has been charged as an adult with second-degree felony murder, allegedly causing the death of Moreno by leading police on the dangerous, high-speed chase.
The loss has been a painful one for a police department and the community, said Police Chief Rafael Padilla.
“It’s been an incredibly challenging few days,” Padilla told the crowd, “and in the fog that everything’s been going on, I look at my officers and I see real-life heroes who can handle anything that’s out there dazed and stunned.”
The vigil, Padilla said, is only a first step in the healing process.
“This is absolutely beautiful,” Padilla said of the vigil, “the support, the love, the community gathering like this (shows) just the beauty of the diversity of our city.
“This is phenomenal and I have no doubt, in particular in our city of Kent, that when tragedy strikes, we come together like this,” he added. “It is powerful, it is life changing, and we love it and we need it.”
Padilla said a second officer, whom the Kent Police Department on Wednesday confirmed the identity as Mark Williams, is out of the hospital and recovering from injuries sustained in the chase.
According to charging papers filed by King County prosecutors on Wednesday, Williams was in high-speed pursuit of the eluding pickup, inadvertently struck and killed Moreno, then collided with vehicles stopped in a left-turn lane from Highway 516 onto West Meeker Street.
The 18-year veteran “suffered a severely broken leg that required lengthy surgery,” charging papers said.
“There’s a long journey in front of him, and we’re going to give him all the support and love that he needs,” Padilla said of Williams. “He’s hurting just as much as all of us, if not even more.”
Williams has been a detective, a field training officer, and been awarded a Letter of Commendation for his assistance in apprehending two suspects who had robbed a 70-year-old woman at gunpoint, according to a Kent Police news release.
Padilla is calling on the community to stand with the Kent Police in support of Williams.
“Officer Williams has dutifully provided service to the Kent community in several facets and has faced life-and-death encounters on numerous occasions,” Padilla said. “He is one of our finest, who was doing his job when tragedy struck.”
At the vigil, Mayor Dana Ralph shared fond moments of Diego Moreno, who gave so much of himself to help others.
“Officer Diego Moreno was a hero long before he lost his life. He was hero to his wife, his children, to the Kent Police Department and to this community,” Ralph said. “Our first responders are all heroes, but Diego was special. Diego didn’t just put on his uniform and badge and worked a shift, he also went that extra mile.”
Kent Police chaplain Pat Ellis described Moreno as a hero who touched so many lives.
“We suffered an imaginable tragedy just a few nights ago,” Ellis told the gathering. “Officer Diego Moreno gave his life. … Diego’s life had purpose, and he lived that purpose every day. That purpose was not only his family, but it was you.”
A service for Moreno is planned for 1 p.m. on Tuesday, July 31, at the accesso ShoWare Center, 625 W. James St. The public is welcome.
For those who want to donate money to the family, an account will be set up through U.S Bank.