She was only 18 months old when her father was killed in a drug sting.
Now all grown up, Ashley De La Rosa stood next to her mother, Leslie, to serve cake at a commemorative ceremony June 20 marking the 25th anniversary of the death of her father, Fullerton Police Det. Tommy De La Rosa.
There were no lengthy speeches at the 2 p.m. ceremony — just brief comments from Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes about the huge sacrifice De La Rosa made for the community, and the huge sacrifice Leslie and Ashley De La Rosa have made over the years.
Mostly, there was quiet reflection and shared memories among the attendees at last Saturday’s ceremony, including some FPD retirees who drove more than 400 miles to pay homage to their late friend and colleague.
Hughes called June 21, 1990 “one of the darkest and saddest days in the history of the Fullerton Police Department.”
Regarded not only as one of the best undercover detectives in Fullerton and Orange County but also the state, De La Rosa died after being shot fives times when he was ambushed while posing as a narcotics trafficker.
De La Rosa returned fire, killing one of the suspects. Three others remain behind bars with life sentences.
De La Rosa died trying to stop criminal drug dealers who were distributing thousands of dollars of narcotics into the community. Along with Officer Jerry Hatch, he is the second Fullerton officer to be killed on duty.
De La Rosa, who served two combat tours in Vietnam and is a Purple Heart recipient, was one of 164 cops killed in the line of duty nationwide in 1990.
“For some of us,” Hughes said, “it seems like it was just yesterday that he was walking these hallways and making fun of us and telling funny stories and showing that tremendous smile that he had, and talking about how he couldn’t wait to spend time with his family on the weekend.”
Hughes noted that De La Rosa was passionate about talking to at-risk kids about the dangers of drug abuse and the importance of staying in school.
“The impact he made in our lives is what truly matters,” Hughes said.
Two years ago, the FPD dedicated a police car in De La Rosa’s memory — unit 811.
Also two years ago, a banner was put up on Commonwealth Avenue, near PD headquarters, in De La Rosa’s memory.
And soon, Hughes said, the 5 and 91 freeway interchange will be designated the Fullerton Police Det. Tommy De La Rosa Memorial Interchange.
Fullerton Rotary South donated $5,000 for the signs, Hughes said.
Hughes’ family and other attendees at the June 20 commemorative ceremony also will receive a challenge coin created in De La Rosa’s memory.
“As a police family, none of us can really comprehend the sacrifices the De La Rosa family have had to endure,” Hughes said.
“What we can do,” he added, “is make sure these sacrifices are never forgotten.”
Photographer Steven Georges contributed to this story.