Growing up in Northeast Los Angeles, Juan Jose Diaz developed a passion about a couple of Los Angeles institutions: He loved the Dodgers and ate cereal from a plastic team helmet. At 5 years old, he talked about someday wearing the uniform of a Los Angeles police officer.
Two years ago, Diaz joined the Los Angeles Police Department and worked his way into the Special Operations Division, a unit known for advanced surveillance techniques and investigations into department personnel.
But his childhood dream was short-lived: The young officer was shot and killed while off duty last month near a taco stand in Lincoln Heights, not far from the neighborhood where he grew up.
On Monday, several thousand mourners said their final goodbyes to Diaz during a funeral at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown that drew state and local officials, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, Sheriff Alex Villanueva, dozens of family and friends and law enforcement from across the state and country who gathered to honor the 24-year-old officer.
“To all of us, it’s a profound day of loss and sorrow,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the crowd, calling Diaz a young man full of life and possibilities. “The men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department will never forget him.”
In the early hours of July 27, Diaz was out grabbing a bite with his girlfriend and her two brothers when he spotted someone tagging a wall and told the person to stop, spurring a confrontation.
A group of young men approached Diaz after the exchange and began threatening him and his friends. One of the young men lifted his shirt to reveal a handgun. Diaz and his group tried to hurry to their car and drive away to avoid a violent encounter. But the suspects opened fire on Diaz, his girlfriend and her brothers. The gunfire injured one of the brothers, who was taken to a hospital and treated. Diaz died at the scene close to Avenue 26 and Humboldt Street.
After a six-day manhunt, LAPD detectives arrested two men and a woman, identified as Francisco Talamantes, 23; Cristian Facundo, 20; and Ashlynn Smith, 18. All are residents of Temecula and are being held in jail without bail. Talamantes and Facundo face charges including murder with special circumstances and other counts that would make them eligible for the death penalty if convicted.
“He observed something that was not right,” Father Tesfaldet Asghedom, pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lincoln Heights, told mourners. “He tried to correct it. Juan Jose Diaz tried to protect the beauty of our neighborhood.”
Throughout the bilingual mass, Diaz was remembered as someone who grew up in a tough environment and wanted to make a difference in the city.
Garcetti, at times fighting back tears, said many young people talk about becoming police officers but eventually pursue other professions. He thanked Diaz’s family for their sacrifice and dismissed the “what if” possibilities that led to Diaz’s fatal encounter. Diaz carried the wherewithal to do what was right when spotting something wrong, the mayor said.
“Juan Diaz didn’t just do what was right some of the time, he did what was right all the time,” Garcetti said. “Juan reminds us that our lives are worth something.”
Sarahy Diaz said her brother told her weeks ago that he was “on top” of the world after hitting a trifecta: He achieved his dream job, fell in love with his girlfriend and fixed up his “sexy truck.” She recalled Diaz always wanting to hold riveting discussions with his siblings into the late hours and sing country music in the shower.
He made a better police officer than a country singer, she joked, but said she will miss him belting tunes. Her brother, she said, never wavered in his pursuit to join the LAPD.
“You showed what it is to be fearless,” she said. “You will forever be the piece of magic that the world needs.”
Near the end of her remarks, she said mourners would hear the end-of-watch call for her brother — a ceremonial radio call signifying an officer has fallen in the line of duty. She called it her brother’s beginning — not end.
“Brother, your watch has just begun,” Sarahy Diaz said.
Diaz became the 211th LAPD officer to die in the line of duty. He was laid to rest in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills.