Services honor slain Buckeye officer

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- Hundreds of Officer Rolando Tirado's comrades in arms gathered at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Avondale to say goodbye to their fallen colleague Friday morning.

The casket bearing the Buckeye police officer's body entered the church to the melody of a mournful dirge which mirrored the mood of those who came to pray for Tirado.

Tirado was shot and killed last weekend while working an off-duty security job at a concert at El Gran Mercado Swap Meet in southwest Phoenix.

His fellow officer who was working with him, Christopher Paz, was badly wounded that gun battle. He remains in the hospital, but was able to watch the funeral service online from his bed.

Community members and fellow officers from around the state filled the massive church to honor Tirado. Among those in attendance, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and numerous police chiefs from other agencies.

Nearly 200 students, youngsters touched by Tirado, lined the church entrance. Tirado served as a resource officer at Youngkers High School in Buckeye.

Gov. Jan Brewer ordered the state's flags to be lowered to half staff Friday.

Tirado was an 11-year veteran of the force. He spent the last seven of those years with the Buckeye Police Department.

Investigators said he was shot execution-style during a traffic stop at a concert at El Gran Mercado Swap Meet in Phoenix early Sunday morning.

"He never knew what was coming," said Sgt. Tommy Thompson of the Phoenix Police Department the day after the deadly gun battle.

After Tirado went down, Paz shot and killed Cesar Leon, the 27-year-old triggerman. A 23-year-old male suspect was shot several times. He is expected to survive. A third suspect also was arrested.

In its 50-plus-year history, Tirado is the first officer the Buckeye Police Department has lost.

"Our department is devastated," said Police Chief Mark Mann. "This brings you to your knees, but we're going to pull through this together. We've got some big shoes to fill and we need to do that to honor his memory."

Colleagues say they will miss the way Tirado could easily make them smile and laugh.

Bank accounts have been established in the names of both officers. You can contribute to the Tirado Memorial Fund and/or the Paz Recovery Fund at any Wells Fargo location.

Tirado leaves behind a wife and two teenage children.