Prayers, tears, candlelight at LCPD officer’s memorial


Thousands gathered downtown on Friday night, Feb. 16, for a candlelight vigil and to offer condolences to the family of Las Cruces police officer Jonah Hernandez.

The 35-year-old officer, a 2022 police academy graduate, became the first LCPD officer killed in the line of duty on Feb. 11 when he was attacked and killed responding to a service call. Police say his attacker was Armando Silva, who was shot and killed by a witness at the scene. 

“The pain we feel today is because of our love for Jonah and if you did not know him personally, because he gave his life selflessly protecting and serving Las Cruces,” Chief Jeremy Story said, wearing a dress uniform with a black mourning ribbon across his service badge. “Jonah was a kind and compassionate man. He genuinely cared for his fellow citizens and took every opportunity to demonstrate that love.”

The city organized a service bookended with Christian messages, music and tributes to Hernandez, an El Paso resident and father of two young sons. His wife and children, along with his parents and other relatives, were seated near a small stage and podium while members of the public filled Albert Johnson Park, a grassy area adjacent to city hall and Branigan Memorial Library. Tables and food trucks were stationed in several locations, offering free bottled water and hot chocolate, a popular service as the sun went down and the evening grew colder. 

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales and other state and local officials were among the crowd that gathered here, embracing community members and law enforcement officers in and out of uniform, as well as the Las Cruces Fire Department. 

“He had a heart of gold,” Yesenia Lopez said of her husband, briefly taking the podium to thank the community for a tribute that included heartfelt remembrances of two brother officers who had gone through the academy with Hernandez. They shared stories of friendship, laughter and shared ordeals as cadets. 

Luis Balderrama, who once supervised Hernandez as a sergeant, spoke of Hernandez as a peer rather than a subordinate: “Jonah is an inspiration to us all because he gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we could all go home; and also a personal inspiration for my continued growth to be a better person.”

A cellist with the Las Cruces Symphony played Bach while a mix of real candles with battery-operated lights were distributed and lit, spreading white globes of light framed by the red and blue flashing lights of police cars that bordered the park along Main Street and Picacho Avenue. 

“I know he’s looking over us right now with a big smile on his face,” officer Carlos Hernandez, who shared a surname with his deceased colleague but was not a relative, “and I know he did not regret anything.”

Funeral services for Hernandez will also be open to the public at 10 a.m., Wednesday, Feb. 21, at Abundant Church, 1000 Valley Crest Drive in El Paso. After the service, a police procession will take Hernandez to his resting place at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Cemetery.

Thousands poured into Albert Johnson Park in downtown Las Cruces on Friday evening, Feb. 16, 2024, for a memorial service honoring LCPD officer Jonah Hernandez, who died the previous weekend.
Thousands poured into Albert Johnson Park in downtown Las Cruces on Friday evening, Feb. 16, 2024, for a memorial service honoring LCPD officer Jonah …

Religious messages throughout service

From the memorial cards distributed to participants as well as addresses by Mayor Eric Enriquez, two chaplains and others who spoke, Biblical scriptures and Christian faith were cited throughout the public service to impart messages about police officers’ commitment and the nature of authority. 

There were frequent expressions of love and devotion to the community, while Chief Story made explicit reference to confronting “evil,” echoing a statement made in a press conference on Tuesday. On that occasion, with the pain of Hernandez’s death plainly fresh, Story told reporters and the public from a written statement, “This is an evil world. There is evil in our beautiful city. As officers, we see it every day; but it takes selfless men and women to stand against that evil.” 

Chaplain Conant Carr turned from Psalm 116 (“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants”) to Romans: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities for there is no authority except that which God has established and the authorities that exist have been established by God himself, and consequently, those who rebel against the authority are rebelling against what God has instituted. … They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment upon the wrongdoer.” 

Enriquez, in his address, read a verse from the Book of Lamentations (“Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love”) and aimed for a message of healing and unity: “It’s a difficult time that we’re going through now, and it doesn’t seem like there’s anything that will soften this blow; but I tell you, it’s love that will.”

John Powell, pastor emeritus of the First Evangelical Free Church, delivered a closing benediction from Psalms (“…unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain”), stating in a prayer that police and firefighters were the city’s watchmen: “Bless and empower them, grant them zeal tempered with humility and strength tempered with kindness, even as modeled by Jonah Hernandez.” 

Las Cruces, Las Cruces Police Department, Jonah Hernandez, Eric Enriquez