The little girl ripped open an early Christmas present — one of several courtesy of the Garden Grove Police Department.
A baby doll.
“Now I have tons of babies!” Emily Barragan, 5, squealed in delight.
It was Dec. 23, and Emily was surrounded by her family, including brothers Matthew, 3, and Gabriel, almost 3 weeks old, at a relative’s home in Garden Grove.
In a season of giving for law enforcement, when police agencies in Orange County and around the country deliver gifts to needy members of the community, the visit Wednesday to the Barragan family was extra special.
That’s because in the living room bursting with presents and love, someone was missing.
Erika Barragan couldn’t be there to watch the smiles on her children’s faces and see the joy in their eyes as they got lost in a happy world of toys and gadgets and stuffed animals — a fun and wondrous and magical place where sad things never happen.
For Erika Barragan, the most precious gift of all arrived Dec. 4 — her son, Gabriel.
It was her third child with husband Luis, whom she met at work in 2007. The two instantly clicked, fell in love and soon married.
At the time, both were working at the Target on Harbor Boulevard at Chapman Avenue in Garden Grove —- she as a logistics specialist in the warehouse, he as a salesperson in the electronics section.
Luis would go on to work as a sales and IT specialist at Eide Industries, a company in Cerritos that makes outdoor shade structures.
Erika would remain at Target, she and her husband juggling their schedules to raise their young family — hardworking parents just doing their best to provide for their kids.
The Barragans were living with Erika’s parents in Anaheim when Gabriel was born.
Erika looked radiant and felt great as she doted on Gabriel from her hospital bed.
Luis was overjoyed to have a second son.
Emily and Matthew couldn’t wait for their baby brother to come home.
A couple days after being discharged from the hospital, Erika began feeling faint.
She felt nauseous and had trouble breathing.
Luis drove her to the ER at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange.
As doctors started running tests and ordering lab work, Erika suddenly flatlined.
For 30 minutes, doctors performed CPR.
They got a pulse, but Erika couldn’t breathe on her own.
Late Tuesday night, Dec. 8, Erika’s organs began shutting down, including her heart.
She was losing a lot of blood.
Despite several blood transfusions and other medical procedures, doctors told Luis that there was no hope — that they had done all they could to save Erika.
Erika was taken off life support a little after midnight and died Wednesday, Dec. 9.
She was 41.
“Look in my backpack!” Matthew told a visitor. “I fight bad guys!”
The 3-year-old is a huge Batman fan.
He also loves police officers.
So when the two Garden Grove officers rolled up to the house early in the afternoon on Dec. 23, Matthew was in heaven.
The boy hopped into a patrol car as officers showed him the gadgets and flipped on the lights.
Emily was too shy to get inside the police car.
Soon, both Matthew and Emily were consumed in their new toys as relatives watched them in the living room of Patty Barragan’s home.
Patty Barragan, who works the front desk at a medical clinic in Newport Beach, has taken an unpaid leave of absence to care for Gabriel until Luis Barragan figures out what to do next.
“Newborns still need a mommy,” said Patty Barragan, Luis’ mom, as she cradled Gabriel.
Luis has taken time off work following his wife’s death. He was planning to return Jan. 4, but there’s another layer to this tragedy: Erika’s mother, Ana, has terminal cancer. Now he’s not sure what he will do.
For now, it’s an hour-to-hour thing for him.
“I’m a mess,” Luis said Wednesday. “But they (his children) are the reason I get up every day. And without (the GPPD), there would be no gifts under the Christmas tree this year.”
Luis said Target, his employer and neighbors and friends have shown overwhelming support following the death of his wife.
Another aunt, Rosie Santana, set up a GoFundMe page (gofundme.com/barraganfamilyfund) that so far has raised $18,305.
Most of that money, however, was used for Erika’s funeral and burial.
“The family now needs a safety net,” Santana said.
Erika died unexpectedly from an amniotic fluid embolism, relatives said. That rare condition occurs when fetal material enters the mother’s bloodstream.
The GGPD caught wind of what happened and decided to help the Barragan family out in any way it could, said Cindy Nagamatsu Hanlon, manager of the Garden Grove PD’s Community Liaison Division.
Officer Mitch Mosser and his patrol partner, who asked to remain anonymous, delivered the gifts Wednesday.
Mosser doted on the kids, and loved holding Gabriel.
“The Garden Grove PD does what it can to come together for the community,” Mosser said. “It’s an honor and a privilege, and we’re the ones who appreciate them.”
The Barragan family still is dealing with the shock of losing Erika.
Her memorial service was Dec. 18.
A couple of days after she died, Emily asked her father a question.
Luis, 27, did his best to tell his 5-year-old what happened.
“Mommy got sick, and now she’s in heaven,” he said.
Emily had another question for her father.
“But daddy,” she asked. “How is one parent going to take care of three kids?”
Luis thought for a second.
“I will try my hardest,” he told his daughter, “but I have a lot of people helping me.”
Wednesday, the focus was on Christmas – all the presents and the excitement stirred up by the visiting GGPD cops.
“Another snowball!” Emily said excitedly. “Now I have two!”
Matthew became fixated on a toy tool set and used a fake drill on just about everything in the room.
Emily then quietly retreated to a couch.
There, she cradled her new doll in her tiny arms and raised the bottle to her mouth.
A little girl playing mommy.