PHOENIX -- Hundreds of Phoenix police officers converged on a Valley school Wednesday morning in a show of support for one of their own.
The daughter of Officer Daryl Raetz, who was killed in the line of duty over the weekend, graduated from kindergarten today. Because her father couldn't be there, her Phoenix Police Department family showed up to stand in his stead and celebrate Tatum.
"She had 300, 400 parents up here for her this morning," Officer James Holmes said. "It was absolutely amazing. It was bittersweet and it was a bit overwhelming for all of us."
Officers lined the sidewalk clapping for Tatum and congratulating her as she and her mother walked into the school for the graduation ceremony. Inside the auditorium, it was standing room only with a sea of blue in the back and along the side of the room.
Officer Raetz's daughter graduates kindergarten. He couldn't be here so his PD family made it a point to be. twitter.com/phoenixpolice/…— Phoenix Police (@phoenixpolice) May 22, 2013
Dad would be so proud...as are we! twitter.com/SgtMartos/stat…— Steve Martos (@SgtMartos) May 22, 2013
"We tried to keep this small. We tried to keep this to Daryl's squad and his precinct," Holmes continued. "But the word got out that this was happening and it went viral within the department and there was absolutely no way that you could keep officers who could be here away from here. they came, even with their families."
The incredible turnout came as no surprise to those who knew Raetz best.
"This is the most important thing that we could do is to provide support for the family" said Sara Garza, a member of the Phoenix Police Department Drug Enforcement Bureau and a friend of the Raetz family. "Tatum is an amazing little girl and Stephanie [Raetz's widow] is a strong woman.
"Usually we come together as a police family in sad times, so for something like this to happen on such a happy occasion ... this is wonderful," Garza continued. "It's uplifting. ... We honor his memory, but we're there and we celebrate and we're with his family. That's the most important thing we can do. ... We'll support his family forever, and this is just the first step. ... I wish he were here to see [Tatum graduate], but I hope we do him proud."
"There's nothing I can say about Daryl that's not evident by the number of people who have shown up today to show that support," said Raetz's sergeant, Ben Kartchner. "I didn't know how widespread Daryl was loved until this occurred. ... He's going to be sorely missed.
"The Police Department is just a tight-knit family in general," Kartchner continued. "I think [today's turnout] really speaks highly of Daryl's character and the person that he was. ... The most important thing to remember is he's left a precious child and wife and it's our responsibility to make sure they're taken care of for the rest of their lives... ."
To Officer Raetz's daughter and entire family...we love you THIS much! twitter.com/phoenixpolice/…— Phoenix Police (@phoenixpolice) May 22, 2013
"I hope [Tatum] knows we're never going to replace her father, but we're going to do the best we can [for her]," Officer Keith Garn, a friend in Raetz's precinct, said.
Holmes said the school and other parents were extremely supportive.
"Officer Raetz truely embodied the type of great American citizen that our school and our teachers aim to create," school director Keven Barker told the crowd before asking everyone to observe moment of silence in Raetz's honor.
Killed in the line of duty
Raetz, 29, was killed by a hit-and-run driver while working a DUI investigation early Sunday morning. Police found the Ford Expedition that hit and killed Raetz, but they have yet to make an arrest in the case. They did, however, arrest the owner of Expedition on a drug charge
The court paperwork states that Jesus Cabrera Molina, "is a suspect in a fatal hit and run which resulted in the death of a police officer." It also says that he is in the country illegally and has fled to Mexico in the past. He is being held without bond.
Police have not named Molina as the suspect in Raetz's death.