'Our world has been turned upside down'

Dallas police officer Patrick Zamarripa's mother, Valerie, relives the night her son was killed. (video by Jared L. Christopher)
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Dallas police officer Patrick Zamarripa's mother, Valerie, relives the night her son was killed. (video by Jared L. Christopher)

Fort Worth

Dallas police ambush: A grieving Fort Worth mom remembers her fallen hero

July 06, 2017 10:44 AM


Patrick Zamarripa’s easy smile is frozen in a formal police portrait. It welcomes visitors to his maternal grandparents’ south Fort Worth house.

Patrick also smiles from a gallery of pictures in the entryway. In some, the man who dreamed of being a police officer as a child is dressed in his officer’s blues, and in others a dark blue U.S. Navy uniform. Faded ribbons in blues and blacks hint at the terrible reality that haunts his family.

The then-23-year-old was killed by the sniper who ambushed police in Dallas on July 7, 2016, one of five Dallas police officers killed in action. The others who died that day were Sr. Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, 48, Dallas police; officer Michael Krol, 40, Dallas police; Sgt. Michael Smith, 55, Dallas police; and Brent Thompson, 43, DART police.

Valerie Zamarripa is Patrick’s mother. She has worn her son’s photograph on her chest every day for a year. Sometimes she feels guilty for laughing or having a good time without her middle child.

His mother has a rule: No one in the family utters the shooter’s name.

“Even though people know this person’s name, he doesn’t deserve any kind of recognition because he was a coward,” she said. “He was a coward. He was sick. It is just not fair to the people whose lives he took because so many people, our worlds have been turned upside down.”

Valerie’s last conversation with her son was on the day he was killed, before he went to work. He told her he would see her over the weekend and bring his toddler to visit.

“I said, ‘You getting ready to go to work? He says, ‘Yeah.’

“I said, ‘OK, be safe.’ 

“He said, ‘I love you, Ma’ and I said, ‘I love you too, Patrick.’ 

Those were the last words they spoke to each other.

Valerie wasn’t home when the news broke. Her youngest son called to say something was going on in Dallas and she should try to get hold of Patrick.

First there was confusion, then fear.

“They started saying officers were shot and something came over me,” Valerie said. “I started to worry.”

Then she received a call urging her to get to Parkland Hospital because her son had been involved in a situation. She and her daughter raced to Dallas.

“I knew in my heart. I felt it, but I was hoping and praying it was something minor,” she said. They didn’t talk much as they sped to Dallas, because somehow, she said, they knew.

When they got to Parkland, officers were waiting.

“They told me he had been shot and that he didn’t make it. I screamed, ‘No! Not my baby!’ 

Valerie said she had to wait to see her son. When she finally saw him, it was through a window. She couldn’t touch him.

“I wanted to hold my baby,” she recalled through tears. “I wanted him to wake up, but he was already gone.”

‘He was always my hero’

Drawn to law enforcement at an early age, Patrick grew up living by his grandfather’s motto: “You get respect when you give respect.”

Sweet memories lifted his mother as July 7 drew near, memories of a baby, a teen and, finally, a man.

“I am still shocked and amazed as to how Patrick was just an ordinary kid from the barrio on the south side. ... [He] became this hero — he was always my hero,” she said.

Before the south side, Patrick lived in Saginaw until he was about 6 years old, said his father, Enrique “Rick” Zamarripa. Even at 4 and 5, he was a little helper in the yard.

“He was always helping me, that’s the way he was his whole life,” he said.

After his parents’ divorce, he grew up on Stewart Drive in south Fort Worth and attended Worth Heights Elementary and Rosemont Middle School. Valerie said he liked staying close to his roots and was living along Seminary Drive and Wayside Avenue when he died.

“I called him ‘Pelon,’ because he didn’t have any hair, and that name stuck with him. ... I still call him Pelon. I still call him my Pelon,” said his mother. Her chubby, happy baby grew into a responsible child.

Patrick also carried a sense of family into adulthood as he cared for Kristy, the mother of his child; daughter Lyncoln Rae, now 3; and his now-8-year-old stepson, Dylan Hoover.

The day his daughter was born, he told his mother: “Mom, she’s beautiful. This is my world. This is what I am living for.”

Family members and friends can’t talk about Patrick without mentioning the Texas Rangers, Dallas Cowboys and the Dallas Mavericks.

He often worked security detail at Dallas clubs and bars, getting an up-close look at players.

Patrick played baseball in Southside Little League, later at Paschal High School and in the U.S. Navy. A Tejano music lover, he also played trumpet in the Paschal band.

“He was all about his school. He bled purple and white. He loved Paschal,” Valerie said.

Valerie Zamarripa cries after being given flowers as Paschal High School awards 12 scholarships of $1,000 each to students in honor of her son, Dallas police officer Patrick Zamarripa, a Paschal graduate.
Rodger Mallison rmallison@star-telegram.com

The Paschal community was so moved by Patrick’s death that in May the alumni association awarded 12 $1,000 scholarships to graduating seniors during a ceremony in his honor. In the spring, alumni gave the family two framed Paschal jerseys signed by Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys team members.

Called to serve

Patrick Zamarripa’s official police portrait was on view as Paschal High School’s alumni association awarded scholarships in his honor in May.
Rodger Mallison rmallison@star-telegram.com

Patrick first talked about becoming a police officer when he was living in Saginaw. One of the family’s neighbors was a cop.

“Patrick would see his uniform and squad car outside and would talk about wanting to be a policeman,” Valerie said. “I would say, ‘OK, baby, I hope you do.’ 

Years later, he was inspired by the Mendoza brothers — former Fort Worth Police Chief Ralph Mendoza and former police officer Eduardo Mendoza. Both brothers had attended Paschal High School.

Eduardo Mendoza remembers Patrick as a young man who would approach him while he was working Fort Worth events.

“He was always real respectful, polite. He asked questions about law enforcement,” said Mendoza, who said he didn’t realize he helped inspire a future Dallas police officer. “It makes me feel real good.”

In 2001, Patrick graduated from high school with plans to attend community college, but was persuaded to join the U.S. Navy by his older sister, Laura.

“They had to bring a paper to me so I could sign it so he could go because he wasn’t 18 yet. I signed it. He left a little bit after that,” Valerie said, adding that he served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Later, he served as a military police officer in the United States.

When he died last summer, Patrick was still serving in the U.S. Navy Reserve.

He graduated from the Dallas Police Academy in 2010.

His decision to become a Dallas police officer raises a question: “Why not Fort Worth?” Valerie said the answer was family.

“He said we had too much family and too many friends in Fort Worth and he didn’t want to be arresting any of them,” she said.

‘I am just here to protect’

Zamarripa, 32, was on bike patrol when a sniper attacked police officers protecting protesters at a Black Lives Matter march in downtown Dallas on July 7, 2016. The other slain officers were: Sr. Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, 48, Dallas police; Michael Krol, 40, Dallas police; Sgt. Michael Smith, 55, Dallas police; and Brent Thompson, 43, DART police.
Star-Telegram archives

Patrick worked mostly nights. His mother said he preferred the evening shift because there was less traffic on the way to Dallas. He also worked funerals for the U.S. Navy.

She said he liked working bicycle patrol, as he was the day he died, because it allowed him to stay in shape.

His mother said he was proud to protect peoples’ freedoms and rights. Sometimes, people would lash out, but he shook it off, telling her: “We are all the same people. I am just here to protect.”

Dallas police Cpl. Daniel Mulvihill worked with Patrick when they were rookies in the Dallas southeast patrol division, which includes Pleasant Grove.

“When he showed up, he was that guy where everything just calmed down around him,” Mulvihill said.

But he didn’t shy away from danger, fellow police officers said.

“He was a great officer to watch work,” said Dallas officer Josue “Josh” Rodriguez, a friend and former partner. “He had very good people skills. He knew how to talk to people.”

Patrick also had strong policing instincts and could comfort a victim or address a suspect with equal expertise.

“He’s missed every day,” Rodriguez said. “... He was definitely one of the good guys. Those model officers you want around. It’s tragic. It is truly something no one can understand. Of all people, why him?”

A cross hangs on the wall of Valerie Zamarripa's home in honor of her son Patrick, a Navy veteran and former Dallas police officer who was killed in the Dallas Police shooting of 2016.
Jared L. Christopher jchristopher@star-telegram.com

A day at a time

Patrick’s funeral Mass was at Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center, filled with family, friends and police officers from across Texas and the nation, as well as officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and London.

After the funeral, a miles-long procession along Interstate 20 took Patrick to Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, where he was buried as a police officer and Petty Officer 1st Class in the Navy, after receiving a posthumous promotion.

The pain hasn’t gotten any easier for Valerie. It grows acute when she thinks of her granddaughter, who puts her hand on her heart when she sees a U.S. flag and says, “My Dada’s flag.”

“The pain. I can’t even express this feeling, but when I see his baby it gives me a little comfort because she looks like him.”

As July 7 approached, Valerie was taking it a day at a time.

“Something that is important to me, I don’t like being referred to ‘was my son.’ He is my son and I am his mother and will always be his mother. Not was, I am.

“You say, ‘He was your son, you were his mother?’ No, I am his mother. He is my son.”

A cross hangs on the wall of Valerie Zamarripa's home in honor of her son Patrick.
Jared L. Christopher jchristopher@star-telegram.com

This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1