Vince Parra dreamed about wearing one all his life.
He wouldn’t take no for an answer — not even when a terrifying foe emerged to threaten his goal of becoming a Buena Park police officer:
Vince had been a Buena Park PD explorer for about a year when, around his 16th birthday in February 2013, he first was diagnosed with osteosarcoma — bone cancer.
The diagnosis didn’t scare him. At least Vince never let on that it did.
He fought it bravely, and with humor.
“You really like your job?” Vince asked one of his nurses, Laura Fonseca, RN, at Kaiser Permanente in Anaheim during that first round of chemotherapy treatment.
“Yes,” she said, curious.
“You like making people sick like this?”
That was vintage Vince — funny, never one to dwell on his illness, or use it as an excuse to slack off on his explorer duties.
He would never think of slacking off – one of the reasons his young colleagues voted him most inspirational explorer two years running, in 2013 and 2014.
Vince fought that first round of cancer in 2013, and won.
The cancer returned in 2014.
He fought round two, and won again.
Then the cancer came back a third time, this year.
Fighter that he was, Vince didn’t make it this time. He was exactly 18 ½ years old when he died Aug. 20.
At his funeral Wednesday, Aug. 26, at Church of Our Fathers at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Cypress, hundreds of people packed the historic chapel, even spilling outside, to honor the teenager who dreamed to someday wear a badge.
Explorers, officers and deputies from at least 15 law enforcement agencies in Orange and Los Angeles counties attended the hour-long service, which began with the Beatles’ “In My Life” playing over the speakers.
As a continuous scroll of images of Vince silently played on a large screen behind the altar, Father Pedro A. Esteban said a Catholic Mass in Spanish and opened the ambo microphone up for anyone who wanted to share their thoughts about Vince.
Three did: Fonseca, Vince’s nurse; Officer Joey Hoover, a BPPD detective and one of the advisors for the agency’s explorer program; and Buena Park Police Chief Corey Sianez.
“He was a warrior, and we got to see that in the hospital,” Fonseca said. “We want you all to know how strong and brave he was…no matter how hard things got, how sick he became, I never saw a tear. He was always smiling and making us laugh.
“Whenever his brothers would get (in his hospital room) with his friends — it was a party in there.”
Added Fonseca, “For as young as he was, he was the bravest person I ever met.”
Hoover said Vince’s actions served as motivation for explorers everywhere.
“I took over (Explorer Post No. 474) last November,” Hoover said, “and if you didn’t know what Vince had already been through with his cancer, you would never have known.”
Hoover said Vince didn’t like people feeling sorry for him.
“And despite going through cancer treatments, he never hesitated to do (physical training) with us or participate in scenarios,” Hoover said. “He left a positive and strong message behind for our post.”
Sianez said Vince had a big impact on many at the PD during his relatively brief time as an explorer.
“He was extremely dedicated and committed,” Sianez said. “He really was a warrior, and that’s what we teach our officers: to never give up.”
Supporters of the Parra family – Vince’s parents and his three older brothers — set up a fundraising campaign on gofundme.com. More than 160 people collectively donated more than $10,000 to meet the goal of helping the Parra family pay for Vince’s funeral.
Sianez told the congregants serving as an explorer allowed Vince to get one step closer to fulfilling his dream of becoming a cop.
“Every time something like this happens you always ask why — you always look for answers,” Sianez said. “’Why did God take such a fine young man at such a young age?’
“I’m sure He had a reason, but now it’s up to us to honor Vince and take some time to thank him for the service he gave to the Buena Park Police Department and to the community he served.”
Then the chief held up a Buena Park Police Officer badge and announced he was bestowing it on Vince posthumously.
“I wanted him to take this with him because he’s going to need it,” Sianez said. “I’m sure that as he moves on that he will continued to be a public servant.
“And I wanted everyone to know that the women and men who wear this badge in law enforcement are part of a large brotherhood. This badge represents honor, integrity, service and dedication to the people we are all sworn to protect.
“It represents the resilience that Vince embodied. He learned to adapt and respond to situations when he was challenged to the core. This badge also represents strength of character. It’s not just a piece of metal.”
The chief then added:
“He has earned the right to wear this badge. It’s my privilege to bestow it upon him.”
Sianez accompanied Vince’s parents to the open casket, where Vince laid in his explorer uniform. Then they placed the badge above his heart. The badge later was removed and will be encased and given to Vince’s family as a keepsake.
And then loved ones, friends and Vince’s brothers and sisters in law enforcement said their final goodbye to their fallen hero, Buena Park Police Officer Vincente Parra Ramirez, Badge No. 968.