Democracy Dies in Darkness

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Officer Patrick Zamarripa survived three tours in Iraq before being killed in Dallas

By John Woodrow Cox

July 8, 2016 at 3:19 PM

Patrick Zamarripa (left), one of five officers killed in a shooting incident in Dallas, Texas. (Family photo)

It had been 12 hours since he'd lost his son to one of the country's worst mass police shootings, and he still couldn't understand why.

Dallas police officer Patrick Zamarripa, 32, had survived three tours in Iraq, one of the world's most dangerous places, his father, Rick Zamarripa, said Friday. And then this.

"He comes to the United States to protect people here," his dad said. "And they take his life."

Rick was watching television Thursday night when news broke that someone had opened fire in downtown Dallas around 9 p.m. at the end of a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in the city. He knew that his son had recently begun working as a bike officer in the downtown area, an assignment he enjoyed.

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Patrick Zamarripa, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith and Michael Krol of the Dallas Police Department and Brent Thompson of Dallas Area Rapid Transit are the five victims who were killed in Thursday's shooting in Dallas. Seven others were wounded. (Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

"Hey Patrick," his father texted. "Are you okay?"

Rick had asked his son that question before, because he knew Zamarripa's job was perilous. The response usually came quickly: "Yes, dad. I'll call you back."

Not this time.

"I didn't hear nothing," Rick said.

Related: [The acts of heroism during a deadly night in Dallas]

He contacted Zamarripa's longtime partner, Kristy Villasenor, who was at a Texas Rangers game with their 2-year-old daughter, Lyncoln.

Not long before, she'd taken a photo of her and Lyncoln's feet propped on a railing high above home plate. They both wore matching Rangers-red Converse tennis shoes. She posted the image to Facebook and tagged Zamarripa in it.

"Glad Pat is there," a friend wrote, "and not in Dallas right now… ."

"He's not here," she responded. "I just tagged him so he'll get the pic."

Soon after, Villasenor received word that she should head to the hospital.

Rick sped east from his home 40 miles outside the city. He was the first family member to arrive.

"How's Patrick?" he asked an officer.

"He wouldn't tell me," Rick said. "He had that look on his face. I knew."

Patrick Zamarripa's entire adult life had been devoted to service. He entered the Navy soon after high school, his father said, and saw combat while working for the military police in Iraq. When he got out about five years ago, he joined the Dallas Police Department.

He just liked to help people, his father said.

Greg Wise, 48, knew him a decade ago when they worked together at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. Zamarripa was focused and professional, Wise said, even as he talked about leaving the military before serving 20 years.

Wise would often counsel young sailors who considered walking away before reaching retirement age. Many wanted to quit for the wrong reasons. But not Zamarripa.

Related: [Rangers prospect Joey Gallo posts touching tribute to fallen Dallas officer]

"For him, he was just tired of being away from the people he loved," Wise recalled. "He wanted to go back and serve his community."

Zamarripa, he said, had long known he would do that as a police officer in Texas.

"I've been around the military for 30 years. I've seen a lot people come and go. A few stand out as being some of the good ones," Wise said. "And he did."

A friend, Rick said, had recently asked Zamarripa if he was interested in a job with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He declined.

"No, I want to stay," he said. "I love doing this."

Both his Facebook and Twitter profiles are rife with salutes to other fallen officers and soldiers: "Rest in Peace" in honor of two New York cops killed in 2014; a blue stripe across a black image of Texas; the drawing of an eagle surrounded by the words, "Home of the Free Because of the Brave."

His interests, outside of an avid devotion to the Rangers and Dallas Cowboys, were few.

But he adored his children.

He tweeted a video of himself with his stepson, Dylan, yelling "Go Cowboys" together in 2013. The next year, he posted a photo of his boy, flashing a toothy grin, on the opening day of first grade.

"My buddy," Zamarripa called him.

Late last year, he shared a video of Dylan pulling his daughter in a little red wagon.

"Where you going?" he asked, as they strolled past. She smiled and cooed.

"It's the simple things that bring joy to my life," Zamarripa posted.

Lyncoln, he liked to write, was his "#princess."

He tweeted photos of her on the day after she was born in 2013.

"Daddy's got you," he wrote. "My new reason for… life."

He dressed her in miniature Rangers outfits, tiny Texas flags and a No. 88 Dez Bryant jersey (with a tidy blue-and-white bow in her hair).

On Thursday night, Rick said, the family was briefly allowed to see his face through a glass window.

Lyncoln, Rick said, called out for her father.

"Da da," he heard her cry. "Da da."

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John Woodrow Cox is a reporter on the local enterprise team. Prior to joining the Post, he worked at the Tampa Bay Times in Florida and at the Valley News in New Hampshire. He attended the University of Florida, earning degrees in journalism and business.

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