It's one of those assignments that you knew deep down was going to be important to a lot of people. And that fact was clearly evident as I made my way down U.S. Highway 87 in San Angelo Wednesday evening amid a gathering crowd of mourners, well-wishers and supporters of Senior Police Officer Jaime Padron, whose body was being transported under police escort from Austin.
Officer Padron, a native of San Angelo, was responding to a call at a Walmart in north Austin in the early hours of Friday, April 6, about a man, Brandon Montgomery Daniel, causing a disturbance. When Officer Padron arrived Daniel decided to run, but was quickly chased down and both men fell to the ground. During the scuffle, Daniel produced a semi-automatic pistol and began to fire. Two bullets stuck Officer Padron, one hit his protective vest, the other his neck. Senior Officer Jaime Padron, a Desert Storm veteran, father of two and long-time peace officer, died at the scene. He was the first officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty in Austin in over 30 years.
I turned off the highway and on to Avenue Z, a kind of staging area for those in the community who wanted to show their support as the motorcade made it's way through town. I was immediately stuck at the number of people who decided to take time out of their day to come out and and show their support. I parked next to a group of women putting together flag poles and attaching American flags to them. I approached them to start taking photos and almost everyone was cordial and knew why I was there. They let me work around them for awhile, I got some names, quotes as to why they were there and quickly moved on. We were standing next to a pedestrian bridge that crossed over the highway and there were people moving across along with a few children playing. I took my time climbing the zigzag walkway up to the top taking a few photos as I went.
I ran into individuals that knew Officer Padron, some that knew him through mutual friends and people that didn't know him at all. Take Susan Reddy, for instance, who I found standing alone on the far side of the bridge. She was holding the traditional chain of beads and cross reciting the rosary quietly to herself. I waited until she was finished before I approached her. "Oh, I didn't know Officer Padron," she said, "but I did feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to come out and pray today."
I wondered up and down the street for another hour or so as the light of the day slowly faded away. It had been cloudy for most of the day and now we were getting sporadic thunderstorms popping up in the area. The temperature began to drop as the wind picked up and I started to feel a few droplets of rain. A memorial for Officer Padron was being held in Austin and then a police escort was going to bring his body back to San Angelo to his family for a funeral mass and burial at Lawnhaven Memorial Gardens later in the week. The first initial time of arrival for the procession in San Angelo was around 5:00 pm, however, as news traveled of the transport's route, each town's police department along that route wanted to show their respect to their fallen brother. Departments in Llano, Mason, Brady, Eden and Wall (just to name a few) guided the procession along the way. It also meant that the procession was going to be in San Angelo much later and the light was fading fast.
It was now getting close to 8:30 in the evening and I was having to find a spot on the road I would be able to shot from and have enough light to make photos. There was a group of about 10 Marines from Goodfellow Air Force Base on hand that started lining up near a street lamp. I guessed I would be able to get enough light from the street lamp and the headlights from the passing cars to get an exposure. We had been hearing reports from the officers at the scene on the progress of the procession and the news would travel down the line of spectators quickly. The crowd was now swelling to several hundred and the atmosphere seemed more like an outdoor community picnic than a solemn occasion. But then the radios on the vests of San Angelo police officers from across the street began to squawk announcing the arrival of the procession at the city's limits. Almost immediately a hush fell across the crowd and within 10 seconds you could have heard a pin drop.
As the first section of police vehicles approached the gathering crowd, those holding flags raised them a little higher, hands fell over hearts and salutes were offered by law enforcement and military personnel. No sirens or horns blared, only the flashing red and blue lights atop police vehicles announced the arrival of Officer Padron. And just as quickly as the procession entered the city, it was gone and the crowd began to disperse. There was no light conversation or laughter from spectators as they walked back to their cars, just the sound of the breeze blowing through nearby mesquite trees and the pitter-patter of an errant raindrop.