On Thursday, 3-month-old Olivia Ruth Orozco is scheduled to be released from the Nebraska Medical Center, where she has been in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit since her premature birth.
“She’s pretty close to 6 pounds!” her mother, 29-year-old Kerrie Orozco, had exulted on Facebook back on April 19.
The mother had delayed her maternity leave from the Omaha Police Department until she could bring the baby home and they could spend that precious time together.
But the mother will not be there to carry the baby home from the hospital at the long-awaited moment.
Officer Kerrie Orozco was shot to death Wednesday as she and other members of the Metro Area Fugitive Task Force served an arrest warrant on a 26-year-old known gang member named Marcus Wheeler.
Wheeler was wanted in connection with the shooting of a man named Antonio Martin in September. Martin had just dropped off his 5-year-old daughter at home. He was rushed to Nebraska Medical Center in critical condition but survived. He reportedly told police that Wheeler had threatened him on Facebook before suddenly appearing in person and shooting him.
The police were still looking for Wheeler in February, when Orozco gave birth to Olivia Ruth. The baby remained in the hospital when the day came for the mother to return to duty.
Olivia Ruth’s release was just a day away as her mother went with the task force to conduct surveillance on the home of a young woman with whom Wheeler himself had a child six years ago.
At 12:58 p.m., the cops saw Wheeler approach on foot. Wheeler saw them and produced a semi-automatic handgun fitted with a high-capacity drum magazine. He fired several rounds and sought to get away.
Orozco was among the officers who moved straight into the most mortal danger to capture him. She fell wounded in the ensuing exchange of gunfire.
Wheeler managed to flee but was found nearby, also wounded. The gun was recovered.
Orozco and Wheeler were both deemed “Code 99,” or in extremely critical condition, as they were rushed to Creighton University Medical Center. Both proved to be beyond saving. Word of Orozco’s death rocked the whole city.
"Officer Orozco gave her life for all of us,” Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said in a statement. “She will be remembered and missed as a loving wife, mother, officer.”
The stunned and grieving department reported that the former Kerrie Holtz had signed on in 2008, having come to Oklahoma from Iowa. She had proven herself to be as tough as she was tender when she fought in the 2009 “Guns and Hoses” cops-versus-firefighters charity boxing match.
The Omaha World-Herald found a posting in an online bridal registry in which Kerrie and her husband, Hector Orozco, reported that they had met while she was working off-duty security at an Omaha night spot. The posting says:
“Kerrie noticed the big security guy named Hector that always stood just inside the club door. He was kinda cute! The next week, Kerrie had some candy with her and offered it to all of the security. She couldn’t help but notice Hector had a kiddie smile as he accepted the chocolate. Later that night, he asked Kerrie’s partner if she was married. Word got passed that they were both interested, and the rest is history! Kerrie and Hector were married civilly on April 4, 2011, but they always wanted a big Catholic wedding. This is finally their dream come true!”
They got their big Catholic wedding in November 2012 at St. Joseph Catholic Church. She was bilingual and had started working as an interpreter as well as an investigator with the gang unit the previous March.
At one point, she made a department video, sitting in her uniform while describing her efforts to get youngsters she encountered in the street to play baseball with the North Omaha Boys and Girls Club, where she served as a coach and regular pizza party host.
“A lot of it is changing the mind of these kids that what they see as cool isn’t as cool as being responsible, isn’t as cool as going to school and getting good grades, making something of yourself, working as a team, getting on the field and doing everything together that builds a sense of purpose a lot of gang members don’t have,” she says in the video.
She was president of the Police Ball benefitting the Special Olympics, where she worked as a volunteer. She was also active with the Girl Scouts, often speaking at Girls, Inc. events. She brought home rescue dogs. She took part in the Latino Officers Easter Egg Hunt and a program called Shop with a Cop, where officers take homeless kids Christmas shopping. The photos of her with the youngsters on the department Facebook page show a cop being all a cop should be.
On February 17, she gave birth to a child of her own. She stayed with Olivia Ruth until the infant was out of danger and then decided that her maternity leave would be better spent when they were at home.
She would no sooner end a tour than she was back at the hospital with her daughter. A picture posted on May 8 shows a beaming mother holding little Olivia Ruth in her arms. Her smiling husband and her two stepchildren, 8-year-old Natalie and 6-year-old Santiago, stand with them.
Twelve days later, Officer Orozco became the latest cop in this country to be gunned down.
“Not even 30 years old...and her sweet little baby was supposed to come home tomorrow,” the wife of a fellow officer posted on Facebook. “She went back to work so when her newborn was released she could take care of her. this hurts my heart as a mother and a police wife. this madness needs to stop. rest in peace.”
Condolences came from cops around the country, including New York, where a young cop named Brian Moore was murdered on May 2, and Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where Officer Benjamin Deen and Officer Liquori Tate were murdered on May 9.
Now, on May 20, a fourth cop had been killed.
“A tremendous officer and an even better person,” Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said at a press conference. “I just can’t imagine that this has even happened.”
He added, “The city of Omaha owes her and her family a debt of gratitude like no other.”
On Thursday will come the moment when Kerrie Orozco would have taken little Olivia Ruth up in her arms and brought her home. The debt we all owe this child is to make the loss of her mother mean something.
And that has to begin with us saying what that cop’s wife said: This madness needs to stop.
Enough is enough.