Slain Dallas officer remembered as hero during funeral
Hundreds of mourners gathered to remember Officer Rogelio Santander, who was fatally shot last week
By Naheed Rajwani
The Dallas Morning News
DALLAS — Officer Rogelio Santander was a man with many nicknames.
To those who knew his father, also named Rogelio, he was Junior. To his girlfriend, he was Roy.
And to his colleagues, he was Santander.
Dallas police say he's got another name now: "Hero."
The 27-year-old officer died last week after a man he was trying to arrest pulled a gun and opened fire on him, his partner and a loss-prevention officer at Home Depot.
Hundreds of mourners gathered Tuesday to remember the man who called his mom every day; who loved soccer so much, he trained his dogs to kick around a ball; who pushed his girlfriend to learn how to drive and enroll in college for a better future; and who didn't hesitate to take on extra tasks to help his fellow officers.
"A man like you was rare," his girlfriend, Jennifer Rivera, said at Santander's funeral service at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall.
The service began with a slideshow of milestones in Santander's life: baby pictures with relatives, his senior portrait from Skyline High, a graduation photo from Texas A&M-Commerce, snapshots from the Dallas police academy and images from his three years as a Dallas officer.
One of the photos showed Santander grinning, as usual, in his squad car and holding up a handwritten sign that read, "Hey you, smile."
Santander decided in elementary school that he wanted to become a Dallas police officer. He joined the Dallas police force in 2014 and landed the coveted chance to patrol northeast Dallas with his academy classmate and best friend, Officer Crystal Almeida.
Almeida and Home Depot loss-prevention employee Scott Painter were critically wounded in last week's shooting. They could not attend Santander's funeral because they're still in the hospital.
Santander was the ninth officer to be killed in the line of duty in North Texas in about two years.
Over the past week, his colleagues have shared plenty about who Santander was as an officer. But on Tuesday, mourners got to hear from those who knew him best.
"He was a great example for all kids to follow," said his family friend and soccer coach, Oscar Romero.
Rivera said she still remembers the day she met Santander: Feb. 4, 2016. The single mother was working at Subway, ready to go home, when Santander and his partner walked in for a meal.
"You did not notice, but when I gave you that [receipt] slip to sign, I kept looking at that bright and amazing smile you had on your face," Rivera recalled in her eulogy.
Before leaving the sandwich shop that day, Santander walked over to Rivera to introduce himself. He asked politely if he could give her his number. When she said yes, he wrote it on a Subway napkin that she's kept as a memento of their relationship.
The two officially became boyfriend and girlfriend within just days of talking.
Santander was competitive — he wanted to do well and also make sure that the people around him succeeded, too.
He taught Rivera how to drive and let her practice in his beloved Chevy Camaro. He Googled how to change her daughter's diaper to make sure he was doing it right. The girl's first word was "Papa"— for Rogelio.
He encouraged Rivera to enroll in college and once took her to a casino to help her pay tuition.
"Rogelio, I know you're listening," Rivera said Tuesday. "I couldn't have done it without you. ... I want you to see how proud we'll make you."
At the grave site, in the Garden of Honor at Restland Memorial Park, law enforcement from Dallas and around the state stood shoulder-to-shoulder in lines several officers deep.
The graveside service was held beside the plots of Dallas officers gunned down in the July 7 ambush and ended with an officer's voice on his radio, played over a speaker:
"Police Officer Rogelio Santander, 10934, is out of service. End of watch, April 25, 2018. Godspeed, Rogelio."
Officers collectively exhaled, turning to each other to share hugs and pats on the back.
Santander's parents clutched folded flags to their chests as they walked to their son's grave. His father prayed over the navy-blue casket, touching his forehead to it before he and his wife walked away in tears.
Dallas police officers who spoke at the funeral thanked Santander's family for sharing him with the police force and vowed to look after them in his absence.
"Goodbye, brother. We'll take it from here," said Officer Dung Nguyen, who used to work off-duty jobs with Santander.
Another speaker asked all of the law enforcement officers in the crowd to stand.
"This is how we honor a hero," the uniformed Dallas officer told Santander's family in Spanish. "This is your new family."
Staff writer Dana Branham contributed to this report.
©2018 The Dallas Morning News