McALLEN — One of the chief tragedies in the slaying of McAllen police officers Ismael “Smiley” Chavez Jr. and Edelmiro “Eddie” Garza Jr. over the weekend is that they never had the chance to talk to the man who shot them.
Both men are remembered for their positivity and cheerfulness, by the way they could relate to people, by the friends and family they left behind.
Smiley and Eddie never got the chance to fire their weapons when they were shot and killed in McAllen on Saturday, much less to start a dialogue.
Oziel De La Cruz, who worked with Eddie as a dispatcher, says if his friend had the opportunity to talk the way he’d seen him talk on countless 9-1-1 calls, there likely wouldn’t have been any bloodshed on the day the officers were killed in the line of duty.
“That’s the sad thing about it,” he said. “I know if they had an opportunity to talk, I know Eddie would have calmed him down, would have found a way to calm the situation down, and they might have even left laughing … but he didn’t get the opportunity this time.”
Former coworkers of Chavez, who was a coach in Weslaco before becoming a lawman, said he had a smile that would light up a locker room. People even called him Smiley.
Garza’s friends just called him “Eddie,” but his smile was no less infectious.
“He always had that smile on his face. Always telling jokes, always making light of things, even in difficult situations. He would find a way to make things easier for everybody and find a way to make everybody smile,” De La Cruz said. “When you were going to work with Eddie, you just knew you were going to have a good day.”
Eddie became a dispatcher with the McAllen Police Department in the aughts, after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps as a military policeman and with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department.
De La Cruz says he and Eddie worked together for several years, often side by side. He described him as a hard worker and a true servant, seldom complaining about covering someone’s shift or working overtime.
More than anything, Eddie was just a pleasure to be around.
“Always a smile on his face,” De La Cruz said. “Always friendly, always joyful. Always found a reason to be happy, a reason to stay positive.”
Eddie liked taking the hard calls, De La Cruz said. The calls from people who’d lost hope, who were ready to kill themselves. The kind of calls most dispatchers don’t want to get.
“Eddie was excellent at that. There was just something that turned up in him when he spoke with people that were hopeless, and he just found a way to inject that hope into them,” De La Cruz said.
They’d be long calls, he added sometimes half an hour or an hour. Almost like magic, Eddie would send his smile and that sense of humor through the telephone line, gradually infecting the caller with his own sense of joy and positivity.
Often, De La Cruz said, Eddie had an uncanny ability to turn dire calls into fits of laughter.
“By the end of it, he was laughing, they were laughing, they were smiling. It ended up in a very, very good place,” he said.
Eddie didn’t get to talk Saturday, didn’t get the opportunity to reach out to someone who was in a very bad place, and that tragedy has left a community in mourning.
De La Cruz says he lost contact with Eddie when their careers parted ways. He bumped into him again about four years ago, when Eddie started working a security gig at De La Cruz’s church.
“We didn’t skip a beat, it was like we’d seen each other last week,” De La Cruz said. “He came on board to do a job, but he quickly became family.”
Chali Martinez, lead pastor at Vital Church in McAllen, says he watched Eddie’s faith grow over the years he worked there. He would duck into the church when he got a chance, watching snippets of the service when he wasn’t helping direct traffic.
He grew close with the parking team at the church, they’d have cookouts together and go out to ranches.
According to Martinez, Eddie even pleaded with his supervisor not to be rotated away from his duties at Vital Church.
“He would tell him, ‘… Never take this job away from me, this is what I look forward to every week,’” he said.
Eventually, Eddie’s family joined the congregation, something that Martinez says was important to the officer. His wife was preparing to be baptized before the pandemic struck earlier this year.
“For him, even though he may not have known a lot theologically, his faith was a practical faith, and it just seemed like it brought him so much peace and joy, and it seemed like he just always wanted to share that with his family, his friends, fellow officers,” Martinez said.
Eddie did his best to bring as much joy to the church and his fellow worshippers as they brought to him. He brought his smile and that contagious sense of positivity to every service he attended, Martinez said.
“He was usually the first guy you saw on the premises of the church as you drove in, his smile and the glare on his bald head,” he said, chuckling. “He would wave at every single person, every single car that passed by.
“He would smile and wave.”
Eddie spent his last full weekend alive at the church, smiling and waving for four services. Those services will carry on without him, but they won’t be quite the same.
“That’s what most of the people at our congregation have said they’re going to miss,” De La Cruz said. “They’re gonna miss that smile.”