The poignant moments that resonated deep differed for each of them.
For a Tustin detective, it was seeing the eyes of a fallen officer’s family member well up with tears upon seeing hundreds of uniformed officers — most of them strangers — filling the church for the memorial.
“It was tears of happiness, but sadness at the same time,” Detective Nguyen said. “I’ll never forget that look.”
It was seeing hundreds of citizens, their hands over their hearts or raised to their brows in salute, flanking miles and miles of highway as hundreds of cars caravanned from the church to the cemetery to lay the fallen to rest.
For a Garden Grove officer, it was standing at the place where the Dallas officers were gunned down and feeling chills travel up her spine despite the muggy triple-digit heat.
Or it was deciding to strap on a bulletproof vest to attend an officer’s funeral — the first time Brea police officer Todd Schmaltz, a 25-year law enforcement veteran, ever did so.
“As you’re there, you realize you’re being more vigilant than normal,” he said. “That is one thing people won’t understand — being hated by some because of the career you chose and the badge you put on, but that is one thing that unites us all.”
For an Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputy, it was hearing the name of a fallen officer being called out in a packed church, only to be met with silence.
“That is when it hits you: Your brother is no longer there,” said Deputy Adam Church.
The stand-out moments varied for the more than 20 Orange County police officers who traveled to Dallas last week to pay respects to the five officers killed July 7 in a mass shooting at a Black Lives Matter protest.
But there was one sentiment they shared: The profession has changed, but they remain steadfast in their calling to serve.
“There wasn’t a moment when I didn’t look over my shoulder to make sure nobody was behind us,” Garden Grove officer Claudia Alarcon said of walking the streets of Dallas. “It almost seems like we’re targets.
“But I left there realizing that none of us who wear a badge are backing down. We continue to put on our badge, go out and do what we need to do.”
At least 10 Orange County agencies sent representatives to attend the services of Dallas PD Sgt. Michael Smith, Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, officers Michael Krol and Patrick Zamarripa, and Dallas Area Rapid Transit Officer Brent Thompson.
The Orange County officers attended memorial services and some also visited Dallas PD headquarters to honor the fallen at a temporary memorial set up where hundreds have laid flowers, left notes or came to pray.
The reverence of the memorial played in stark contrast to nearby reminders of that deadly night — buildings scarred by gunfire and spray-painted outlines on asphalt of police cruisers marking where they had staged.
“You’re standing there and you think to yourself, ‘I am 10 feet from where these officers took their last breath,’” said GGPD Officer Vanessa Brodeur.“That is something that is hard to feel. It was a somber experience.”
Added Garden Grove PD officer Austin Laverty: “As a new officer, it puts things into perspective. It makes you realize we are not invincible.”
Glimmers of hope could be found among the sadness, however, as hundreds of people approached officers who traveled to Dallas from across the country and Canada to offer handshakes, hugs and heartfelt thank yous.
Those things go a long way, the officers said on Monday at a gathering at the OC’s Peace Officer Memorial at the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy.
“It does let you know there are people out there who support what we do,” Laverty said. “It give us added motivation to get out there and do our jobs.”
Added Schmaltz: “Seeing the support from the citizens was just amazing.I met a guy who traveled from Nebraska because he had to be there to lay flowers at the memorial.”
Many of the officers were still processing the emotions of the week when they were met with the latest news involving anti-police violence.
“We had just landed … and it was the first text message I received: Three officers killed in Baton Rouge,” Brodeur said. “My first thought was, ‘What is this world coming to?’”
Added Laguna Beach PD Det. Abraham Ocampo: “When you come back from an experience like that, you are emotionally and physically drained. You start the rebuilding process and then, unfortunately, you hear about Baton Rouge. It’s a vicious cycle that starts all over again.”
And all over again, Orange County agencies will select representatives to travel to Louisiana to pay their respects and honor those who will be laid to rest — a commitment the officers say they are bound to by the badges they wear.
“It’s worth it,” Nguyen said. “It’s worth it for the (families) to know that they have that kind of support from the law enforcement community.”