McALLEN — Two coffins. Two American flags. One community stunned and heartbroken by the immense loss of two local police officers.
The tears shed at the McAllen Convention Center on Wednesday for fallen McAllen police officers Edelmiro Garza Jr. and Ismael Chavez Jr., who were shot and killed responding to a domestic disturbance Saturday, seemed to flow the entire day at the venue.
One of the more emotional scenes at their public viewing Wednesday came when the Garza family greeted the arrival of Edelmiro’s flag-draped casket that morning. His 6-year-old daughter, Brianna, pointed toward her daddy as his casket was removed from the hearse.
Several photos of her being embraced by her dad were on display next to his casket, in a collage celebrating Edelmiro’s life, and the love he had for his family.
He is seen hugging his family in most photos, including his wife and 3-year-old son. Another shows him on the beach, sitting on the sand with his children, letting waves reach them.
Officers shed tears as they approached the caskets. They confided in each other in the confines of the center’s ballroom, and consoled each other, sobbing and embracing.
Most approached the bodies of their comrades in groups, pausing to lay a hand on the American flags draped over them. They wept on each others’ shoulders.
Those officers were like family to Edelmiro and Ismael.
McAllen Police Department Sgt. Kevin Baron and officer Alex Del Angel both struggled to put into words how heavy the grief is of losing two fellow men in blue.
Del Angel has been with the department for six years, and he considered Edelmiro, who was known by “Eddie” among loved ones, as a brother.
“We are all brothers and sisters, this is the brotherhood you join when you are one of us,” he said. “This just shouldn’t have happened, and it did. When it happens to one of your own, it’s just heartbreaking.”
Del Angel was also thinking about how close both officers were to escaping the situation.
“I heard that people tried canceling them from going to that call, but they said, ‘No, we got it, we got it,’” he said.
Baron, who has known Eddie since he was a dispatcher and Chavez since he joined the department two years ago, described them as officers who brought positivity and energy to the team.
“Always seen with a smile, both of them,” he said as tears welled in his eyes. “They never had a frown, and were always willing to help everybody… Just great people, wonderful hearts.”
Del Angel, keeping his sight on the caskets, then said, “Rest in peace brothers, we will take it from here.”
The woe of the room was also shown by how many wreaths were on display; the arrangement stretched from both ends of the events center. The garlands were gifted by police departments from as far as South Padre Island, and other community families and businesses.
Next to Ismael’s casket was a no. 19 Edinburg High School football jersey and helmet, the same one he wore when he was the school’s defensive end in 1999.
Jesus Salinas was the school’s varsity coach then, and noted that “’99 was our best season.”
That year, the team made it to the semi-finals and Salinas, who retired in 2014 with 49 years of coaching under his belt, said it was because of the dedication of his team that year, including Ismael.
“He was a true Bobcat. He carried those colors real well — red and blue,” Salinas said. “He was not a big man, he wasn’t a big player, but he made up for it with his desire, by always being ready, and how much heart he had on the field. Ismael was all heart.”
Ismael carried that drive into his career as a science teacher at Weslaco East High School, then at the police department. A video of him completing a physical circuit test at the department was shown, and the joy he had for the career is evident.
McAllen police Sgt. Humberto Macias also knew the officers, and said they cared for their city deeply.
“They both were good officers, both wonderful individuals,” he said. “Not only as coworkers or police officers, but as members of the community, that’s who they were.”
As a sergeant for 21 years, Macias said he has seen both officers grow. He has seen them become fathers, and excel as officers, climbing to higher positions.
There was a time when he supervised Ismael, when he was a cadet. Macias said Ismael would always tell him about his big goals.
One of Ismael’s goals, Macias said, was to own a home. Several months ago, after working overtime for months on end, he turned that dream into a reality and purchased a house in McAllen.
Becoming a police officer was another goal Ismael held for a long time. Macias remembers asking Ismael for the first time, “Why law enforcement? Why go from a career of teaching, which was stable, into law enforcement?”
“He said it was one of his goals in life,” Macias recalled.
Losing two officers in one day, and two other officers within the year, has brought unmeasurable pain for the community and its police departments
“This was not the way to say goodbye,” Macias said as he wept, having to pause before speaking. “In my 21 years, I have never experienced anything like this, and hope not to ever again.”
Wednesday’s public viewing was also notable for the precautions implemented due to COVID-19, with the rows of seats separated 6 feet apart from each other and masks being a requirement.
Edelmiro Garza and Ismael Chavez will be laid to rest Thursday following funeral services scheduled at 9:30 a.m. at the convention center. The burials will be held immediately following the services at Rio Grande Veterans Cemetery for Edelmiro, and Valley Memorial Gardens for Ismael — both in Mission.
Additionally, the Department of Public Safety and other law enforcement agencies will be closing all northbound and southbound lanes from the intersection of Frontage 1-2, and Ware Road and Business 83, in addition to the westbound and eastbound lanes of Taylor Road.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify the locations where the funeral services for Garza and Chavez were held.