Miami police officer Rafael Horta, a 29-year-old rookie only on the force for five months, was heading home from work Sunday morning when he noticed a man trying to break the window of a truck in a school parking lot.
His actions in the next few seconds would take a life, save a life, and earn him heartfelt praise from a still-reeling-but-relieved family and fellow officers.
“Thank you for saving my sister’s life. You did the right thing at the right time and we owe everything to him,” Yudmilya Rodriguez told Horta Monday afternoon at police union headquarters in Little Havana. “My sister was shaken. She’s in recovery now.”
According to witnesses and police, Horta had just finished his Saturday midnight shift and was driving home through Miami Lakes just after 7 a.m. Sunday when he spotted Relvy Rodriguez-Palenzuela, 34, trying to break the window of a truck parked at Miami Lakes Middle School.
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By the time Horta pulled up to the truck the window was broken and Rodriguez-Palenzuela was inside the truck stabbing Yurien Rodriguez-Perez, a woman he dated but had recently broken up with, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
Horta ordered Rodriguez-Palenzuela out of the truck. When he got out with his knife in a threatening manner, police said Horta shot Rodriguez-Palenzuela dead.
Rodriguez-Perez, 27, was airlifted to the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital. She was released Monday morning.
Walter Villareal, who said he witnessed the incident at 6425 Miami Lakeway North, said Horta yelled for Rodriguez-Palenzuela to get out of the truck several times. Villareal said when he saw the man get out of the truck with a knife, he turned to leave and heard several shots.
He said Horta yelled repeatedly, “Outside the truck.”
Ludmilya Rodriguez said she and another sister were nearby and saw part of the deadly encounter Sunday morning. She said another sister called 911. Rodriguez said her sister was on her way to work when she was confronted by Rodriguez-Palenzuela.
“It was so fast. It’s hard for me to remember,” she said. “I’m still in shock.”
Monday afternoon Horta, Rodriguez and Fraternal Order of Police President Javier Ortiz met with the media at FOP headquarters on Southwest 12th Avenue.
In a prepared statement, the officer refused to discuss the incident, but thanked his fellow officers for their support.
“I pray Miss Rodriguez heals from her injuries,” Horta said.
Ortiz called Rodriguez a witness and said she’s been fully cooperating with police. Miami-Dade police are investigating the confrontation between Rodriguez-Perez and Rodriguez-Palenzuela. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will investigate Horta’s shooting.
Ortiz, who called Horta’s actions heroic, said he had to do something none of us ever want to do, “take someone’s life.”