The sight of Dallas officers in helmets carrying rifles near police headquarters late Saturday afternoon was a clear sign that tensions remained high — even as the city grieved — two days after a gunman opened fire on officers in a “cowardly” ambush.
Police said they had received a general threat to officers citywide and were taking it seriously. Reports late in the day of a possible suspicious person in the parking garage of police headquarters led to a search by SWAT officers and then by K-9 teams. After several hours, the all-clear was given; police also dismissed as inaccurate earlier reports of shots fired.
Carman Vasquez brought a bouquet of roses Saturday evening to lay at the police memorial downtown. She wasn’t going to let a high alert keep her away — but she thought it might make for a smaller crowd.
Vasquez said that she “had to come” despite being advised not to by her friends but that she was caught by surprise at how many people were there. “I just can’t believe it. I came not expecting this much attention [or] this much media.”
Makeshift memorials continued to grow as the healing from Thursday night’s violence was just beginning. Resident Cynthia Saucedo 38, described the mood of the city as “very eerie and sad.”
Earlier in the day, Louis Padilla, 50, an Army veteran, came with his wife to police headquarters, bringing with him questions that may never be answered.
“I’m angry. I just don’t understand it, I understand the protests and the importance, but it didn’t have to end this way,” Padilla said. “We wanted to come and show our support so they know that no matter what, we back them up.
“The healing process hasn’t even begun yet. We’re still trying to understand it.”
Dallas police say the gunman, Micah Xavier Johnson, acted alone in Thursday night’s ambush, which came at the end of a Black Lives Matter protest march in downtown. Five officers were killed, seven others and two civilians were wounded.
Johnson fired from elevated positions inside El Centro Community College and on the street before hiding in a parking garage, where police cornered him and spent hours in intense negotiations before deploying a robot with a bomb to take him out.
Police Chief David Brown said Johnson repeatedly talked about his hatred of white people, “especially police officers,” and described his actions as “cowardly.”
Johnson, 25, lived in Mesquite with his mother and had previously served in the Army, including a nine-month tour in Afghanistan.
Nobody answered the door Saturday at the home, which had a Mesquite police cruiser parked in front. A Mesquite officer said the family has complained about harassment from reporters and asked that they be steered away from the front door.
Padilla said he’s ashamed to even call the shooter a veteran.
“He should’ve known the war is over there, not over here,” Padilla said.
‘We are here to help’
At Dallas police headquarters on Lamar Street, a steady stream of people stood near two parked police cars covered in flowers, sticky notes, balloons and other tokens of appreciation.
Many of the visitors cried tears of sadness and anger. Some people came and went quickly, while others stayed longer and reflected, remembering those who died.
Members of the Heroes, Cops and Kids organization, dressed as Captain America, The Hulk and Batman, were busy handing out stickers and talking to kids.
“I have a responsibility as a former officer to help teach these children to have good values so they will grow up to make good decisions and not be criminals,” said former officer Ricardo Campbell, dressed as Batman.
Though spreading a message of love, hope and healing, Campbell said his anger is strong.
“Someone has to speak up, and as an African-American man, I don’t condone this behavior,” Campbell said.
Veronica Sites of Fort Worth, a chaplain for the Victim Relief Crisis Response Team, said the most crucial time for those on the front line of this tragedy is 24 to 72 hours after the event.
“What we try to do is interrupt the feelings they are having that might lead to post-traumatic stress disorder — we call it verbal triage,” she said. “We are here to help them process and grieve. Right now, I wanted to come out here for the community.”
Dallas police officer J.P. Ransom said he and his comrades were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
“It’s touching all of us,” Ransom said. “We come out here and see all this and we just really appreciate it.”
‘Wanted to save lives and protect people’
Four of the officers killed worked for the Dallas Police Department and the other for Dallas Area Rapid Transit.
Dallas officers killed were: Patrick Zamarripa, 32, a Fort Worth native; Michael Krol, 40, who had lived in Burleson and Fort Worth; Michael Smith, 55, of Carrollton; and Lorne Ahrens, 48, of Burleson.
Brent Thompson, 43, of Corsicana is the first DART officer to die in the line of duty since the agency’s police arm was established in 1989.
Fellow DART officer Terry Mack said he stopped by the memorial after first going to the DART office. The scene there was quiet, he said, as many employees were still trying to process what happened.
Thompson had recently married another DART officer.
“He was a brave man dedicated to his family,” Tara Thornton, a close friend of Thompson’s 22-year-old daughter, told The Associated Press. “He loved being a police officer. He instantly knew that’s what he wanted to do. He knew he wanted to save lives and protect people. He had a passion for it.”
Although official numbers have not been released because of the ongoing investigation, Mack said there are still two DART officers in the hospital recovering from gunshot wounds.
“I want people to know that not everyone is bad out here doing bad things,” Mack said. “We need support from the community to help us do our jobs better out here.”
Euless police officer Allie Galloway, a member of the honor guard that carried slain officer David Hofer’s casket at his funeral, said she already knows she will be part of Thompson’s funeral and most likely the four Dallas officers’ as well.
“This is just too soon and hits too close to home for us,” she said.
‘Just like a bright light’
In Fort Worth, the tributes continued to roll in for Zamarripa, a 2001 graduate of Paschal High School and a Navy veteran who had served three tours of duty in Iraq.
Cathleen Richardson was assistant principal at Rosemont Middle School when Zamarripa attended.
“I remember him being so happy,” she said.
Andrew Williams, then the band director at the south-side middle school, remembers Zamarripa as a talented musician who played in the school’s jazz and symphonic bands, as well as lead trumpet in the school’s mariachi band.
“Back in the ’90s at Rosemont, it was kind of inner city — lots of gang activity, lots of problem kids,” Williams recalled. “He was always just like a bright light.”
Zamarripa was an “adorable kid” with a baby face but a mature and helpful personality, Williams said. He often helped other students learn their parts and was often found practicing after school and on his lunch break, he added.
“You could totally see him turning into something great,” Williams said. “Of course, that’s what he did.”
Williams said while he last saw Zamarripa at Paschal High, he was not surprised to learn Friday that Zamarripa had gone on to join the military and eventually become a Dallas police officer.
“I probably cried for about an hour yesterday morning when I found out” about Zamarripa’s death, he said. “My son is 13, about the age of when I met Patrick. I said that could have been my son right there. He’s the kind of kid you want your son to be.”
Zamarripa’s wife, Kristy, posted a message on her Facebook page thanking “everyone from the bottom of my heart for all of your love and support.”
“This is something I never thought could ever happen to us. We were not done spending our lives together,” she wrote. “Because of this disgusting display of hate, my daughter will not have her daddy to walk her down the aisle and my son will not have his ‘best buddy’ to play football and baseball with. I finally found the love of my life and now have to endure a lifetime without my lobster.”
A family friend has set up a GoFundMe account to help the family with expenses. By Saturday afternoon, it had raised almost $29,000.
Ahrens a ‘gentle giant’
Rick Owen, pastor of Pathway Church in Burleson, described Ahrens as a “gentle giant” whose large stature served him well on the job but didn’t keep children from flocking to him.
“His smile was just as big as his body, and because of that, children just thought he was the coolest thing,” Owen said.
A 14-year veteran of the Dallas department, Ahrens worked a different shift from his wife, Dallas police Detective Katrina Ahrens, to ensure that one of them was always with their 8-year-old son, Magnus, and 10-year-old daughter, Sorcha.
“I think that was one of the most important priorities in his life — to be a good dad,” Owen said.
Owen said Ahrens often attended the children’s school events and was a popular speaker on career day.
“They were very proud of their dad and what he did. Extremely proud,” he said.
When heard about the shooting Thursday night, Owen said, he pushed aside concerns that Ahrens, a member of his congregation, could be involved.
“I thought, ‘Hmmm. I haven’t heard anything. He’s OK,’ ” Owen said.
He he texted Katrina Ahrens the next morning to be certain.
“She just gave me a simple text back: ‘He didn’t make it,’ ” Owen said. “I couldn’t breathe for a minute.”
He said the Ahrenses were well aware of the risks that came with their jobs.
“They’re just real people They’re your next-door neighbors. They’re just trying to do their jobs and do the best they can in their jobs and give back to the community. … They’re just ordinary people doing an extraordinary service.”
Back at the police memorial, Carman Vasqez said the events of the past few days made her “sad and scared.”
“You see this in other places, but not here,” she said. “To not feel safe in your own city is terrifying. They [police] are much braver than we are. It’s very personal for me. I know the streets where this happened.
“I hope was get back to normal sooner rather than later.”
Staff writers Robert Cadwallader and Patrick M. Walker contributed to this report.