New mom. Coach K at the local Boys and Girls Club. Girl Scout leader. Special Olympics volunteer. Omaha, Nebraska, police officer. Kerrie Orozco was all of those things and much more.
It was in the last role, as a member of her police department’s gang unit, that Orozco lost her life.
On Thursday, her daughter Olivia Ruth — who’d been born premature months earlier — was set to leave the hospital. Orozco was set to start maternity leave as she welcomed her baby home.
Instead, Orozco’s family and the many more who loved her must begin the process of coping with her death in a shootout that also killed the suspect.
“She was a tremendous officer and even better person,” Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said. “I just can’t imagine that this has even happened.”
Others around the Nebraska echoed Schmaderer’s praise and disbelief. Whether on the job or on her own doing good, Orozco stood out every day as someone who cared. She was beloved for her generosity and spirit. If anybody embodied the idea of police officer as public servant, it was Orozco.
“I believe that the community really, really wants good officers with good hearts,” and “she was one of those officers,” local activist Barbara Robinson told CNN affiliate KETV. “She truly was an asset to our community, and she’s going to be missed.”
Went to arrest assault suspect, convicted felon
Orozco was among a group of Omaha officers who set out around midday Wednesday to arrest a man wanted for first-degree assault in a shooting.
They spotted their man, later identified as convicted felon and known gang member Marcus Wheeler, who responded by firing several shots and fleeing, according to Omaha police.
Gunshots flew back and forth when police caught up with the 26-year-old Wheeler at another location. That is where Orozco was struck.
So, too, was Wheeler, who was tracked down a short distance away. A semi-automatic handgun with a high capacity magazine was found alongside him, police said.
Both Orozco and Wheeler were rushed to the CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center. Neither survived their wounds, with Schmaderer offering condolences to relatives of both his department’s police officer and Wheeler.
Tiffany Atkins ran to her basement after hearing up to 10 shots, hoping she’d be safe there.
“It’s a very scary, terrifying thing,” Atkins told CNN affiliate KMTV.
Active in her community: ‘She was special’
While not much was immediately known about Wheeler, police did shed light on Orozco’s life in the department and the community.
The 29-year-old had been with Omaha police for nearly 7½ years, the last three on its gang unit. Bilingual, her Spanish skills came in handy on the job.
She made a big impact off the job as well.
First, there was her family — starting with husband Hector, her two stepchildren and little Olivia Ruth, who was born February 17.
She had a much larger virtual extended family as well, including fellow police officers and all those in the community whose lives she touched. Some of those people, no doubt, were among those that had contributed over $75,000 by midday to a fund to help her family, according to Omaha police spokeswoman Darci Tierney.
“I have no words,” Omaha police Sgt. Amy Oetter tweeted. “We lost a great sister today. Rest well #KerrieOrozco.”
Orozco volunteered with the Special Olympics and was president of the Police Officers Ball benefiting that group. She led a Girl Scout troop. She took part in “Shop with a Cop.” She helped with the Latino Police Officers Easter egg hunt.
One of Orozco’s homes away from home was the North Omaha Boys and Girls Club, where she helped in a lot of ways, including as a coach since 2009.
Abdul Muhammad, who works at the club, recalled Orozco’s joy and enthusiasm in the dugout, as well as her ability to somehow get all 30 players on a team into a 5-inning game. He and players paint the picture of a woman who loved coaching and interacting with children and who was very much loved back.
“She was like a mom away from home, a Boys and Girls Club mom,” Muhammad told KMTV. “She was special.”