MESA, Ariz. -- Fellow officers, community members, family and friends are remembering a fallen officer.
They lined the fence of Guerrero Park with flowers, flags, candles, cards and posters in honor of Officer Brandon Mendoza, who was killed in a wrong-way crash early Monday morning.
“I can’t believe it. It’s a shock! It’s a shock!” Betty Serrano said as she laid flowers at the park. Serrano has lived in the community 47 years. She said the once crime- and drug-ridden park has now turned into a family-friendly place thanks to Mendoza.
"Every two or three weeks he would stop by the house to see how things are going," Serrano said. "He would have been the son I never had."
Mendoza rose to the challenge to revitalize Guerrero Park more than a year ago. He and youth sports coach Steve Jimenez spearheaded the project as a way to give the neighborhood kids a safe place to play and practice baseball in the evenings.
"He’s a great police officer, but even as a person, he made that commitment," Jimenez said.
Mendoza volunteered his time off duty as well, raising money for new equipment and supplies for the kids who otherwise could not afford to play the sport.
"It was the best thing that happened to this community," Jimenez said.
When he got the word Monday that Mendoza had been killed, Jimenez brought a flag to the park and planted it just beyond second base, overlooking the kids the way Mendoza once did.
"In the military, you lay out some flags," said Jimenez, a former military police officer. "And he’s just a solider here in the community as a police officer, so that flag represents Brandon."
Late Monday afternoon, about a dozen Mesa police officers arrived at the park in uniform, carrying a large bouquet of blue flowers in Mendoza’s memory. Each one signed a poster and held a moment of silence.
Chief Frank Milstead described Mendoza as an "icon" in the Mesa Police Department, adding, "He is everything as a police chief you’d want your police officers to be."
Mendoza was 32 years old and a 13-year veteran of the Mesa Police Department. He is survived by his parents, grandmother, siblings, nieces and nephews.