His death was set in motion last fall.
The terminal illness was finally taking its toll on 8-year-old Erick Casillas that winter. He was unable to walk and speak full sentences, and he needed around-the-clock care.
On Monday morning, with his family by his bedside and more than a year after he was diagnosed with brain cancer, Erick died.
Many who knew or had come to know the boy recently were mourning his death this week, including members of the Gardena Police Department.
Last month, the department played a key role in granting the boy’s childhood dream: to become a police officer.
The department made him an honorary police officer, complete with his own badge and uniform. He went on patrol when Gardena police took him on a ride-along.
“The joy and sparkle in his eyes conveyed more than any word could ever do,” said Lt. Steve Prendergast, a spokesman for the department who announced the boy’s passing in a news statement.
But the department’s kindness didn’t stop there, said Jessica Avila, the co-founder and director of Junior Foundation Charities, a nonprofit organization that supports families with children who are facing cancer. The department and the Casillas family were connected through the foundation.
Avila said police officers gave the family food, financial assistance and a Christmas tree with ornaments.
“Complete with an angel to go on top of the tree,” she said in a recent phone interview.
Avila said the foundation's role began last November when the family's social worker reached out to them. They met the family and learned that Erick wanted to become a police officer when he grew up.
That revelation, however, was made only after the boy asked for a Lego police car as a Christmas gift.
Avila said she reached out to the Gardena Police Department shortly thereafter. Officers visited the family during its annual Santa Float parade, dropping off gifts to the boy. But the officers and the police chief returned with more goods after that.
“During the short time we got to know Erick and his family, he touched the hearts of the members of the Gardena Police Department very deeply,” said Police Chief Edward Medrano. “He will forever be a part of our police family.”
Funeral plans are pending as the family tries to raise money for funeral services, according to Avila and the police department.
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