Fallen Officer Memorialized in Downtown Kalamazoo

Posted at 8:50 PM, Jun 05, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-05 22:59:23-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich.- A memorial now stands in Kalamazoo to remember the first public safety officer to die in the line of duty in that community.

A 7-foot-tall bronze sculpture of Eric Zapata was unveiled Wednesday during a memorial dedication.  Some of Eric’s family said the dedication was harder than his funeral but it was a loving reminder of the communities support.

“I hope young people grow up and know about him and maybe want to become a police officer because of what he’s done and what kind of person he was,” Susan Zapata, Eric’s stepmom said.

During the memorial ceremony a woman who never even met PSO Zapata offered her thoughts: “I see a smile in his son and his heart in his mother and that’s as close as I’ll ever get, yet his life has still taught me lessons.”

Zapata’s life was cut short in April 2011 when he was shot responding to a report of gunshots.  His 9-year-old son Jacob barely knew his father, but now has the memorial to come visit.  Jacob said the memorial sculpture was “amazing.”

Zapata’s mother, Connie Bernal says the memorial is a dream come true. “I mentioned that before – that he would be forgotten. I worried about that – that he would be just another police officer, but the community of Kalamazoo has not forgotten him.”

The memorial downtown is a reminder of PSO Zapata’s ultimate sacrifice for the Kalamazoo community.

“And now I see him there,” Bernal said, “and I’m leaving him there. It’s hard, but I’m not leaving him alone.  I’m sharing him.  I’m sharing him with a good community – good people and people that he loved.”

Brent Harris, the artist of the sculpture, used to be a paramedic working out in the field with PSO Zapata.  He created a miniature version of the sculpture for Zapata’s family to have as a memorial at home.