MCALLEN — Police officers from Mission, McAllen and Edinburg formed an aisle for Joaquin Espericueta, who smiled as he saw familiar faces, clapping him in as he walked toward the entrance of Cathey Middle School on his first day of class Monday morning.

Around 50 police officers lined up in front of the campus to encourage and lift the spirits of the seventh grader, who’s one of more than 22,000 McAllen students returning to school.

For Joaquin, he started his school year Monday just a few months after his father, Mission Police Department Cpl. Jose Luis “Speedy” Espericueta, died in the line of duty in June.

Policemen, public officials and his family attended previous processions and honors for the fallen officer, who in addition to Joaquin is survived by his wife and daughters, Roberta “Bobbie” Espericueta and Brianna.

Monday’s tribute is a continuation of those gestures, one that also prompted the support of members from the Texas Department of Public Safety and Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra.

Cathey Middle School Principal Melvin Benford embraced Joaquin, who plans to play football this year, as he approached the entrance.

“The level of support that we’re seeing from the community is very heartfelt. Joaquin is a great student, and McAllen ISD is a framework of not only academic support but social and emotional (support),” Benford said as he and police officers waited for the student’s arrival.

Benford said he met with Joaquin’s mother during registration for school, adding that counselors are available to him if needed. The school will provide support in and outside the classroom, he further stressed.

“They were at peace as far the conversation with me, but I do know the pain is there, so anytime that they need anything, that they know they can reach out to us,” the principal said.

As the sun rose, police officers took their positions outside Cathey as other middle school students trickled into the building, glancing at the uniformed men and women standing in front of their campus.

Mission Police Chief Robert Dominguez also offered gratitude for the support from the community and for other law enforcement agencies in continuing to show support for the Espericueta family.

“It’s an important day for this young man as he starts his first day of middle school, and again it was important for us to be here for (him),” Dominguez said during an impromptu news conference.

Mission police will continue supporting Joaquin by attending his upcoming events, the chief added. Spending time with him on his birthday, and recognizing him in his first home football game in September are among these special occasions.

“I think it’s important for us as an organization to obviously be by the family’s side… we’ll continue that as we move forward, it’s been a difficult time for all of us,” Dominguez said.

McAllen ISD Superintendent Jose Gonzalez said the show of support for Joaquin shows the “heart of the Valley.”

“In the Rio Grande Valley, we’re going to rally together to make this young man’s life as peaceful as it can be in these hard times, and it’s a lot of people coming together to show him love, and it’s going to continue,” Gonzalez said.