Christmas tree in SJ honors fallen police officers

SAN JOSE, Calif.

Volunteers from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 52 of San Jose decorated the holiday tree with the names of about 30 officers during the annual Christmas in the Park event at the Plaza de Cesar Chavez in downtown San Jose.

Bobby Lopez, the lodge's president, said this is first year the lodge is sponsoring a "Fallen Officers" tree honoring officers killed while on duty anywhere in the country.

"We don't want to be a San Jose memorial," said Lopez, 56, a 10-year veteran of the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office and 23-year veteran of the San Jose Police Department who retired from the SJPD in August.

"We want it for anybody who sends us a name, and we'll put their name on our tree," said Lopez, who lives in Discovery Bay.

Donors to the fraternal order bought memorial ornaments for two Los Angeles police officers and Officer J.D. Tippit, killed in Dallas allegedly by Lee Harvey Oswald on Nov. 22, 1963, the same day President Kennedy was assassinated.

Others with their names on ornaments -- written in gold paint on ribbons affixed to gold-colored metal stars -- include Santa Cruz police officers Sgt. Loran "Butch" Baker and Detective Elizabeth Butler who were shot to death by a criminal suspect in Santa Cruz on Feb. 26.

Lopez said the lodge intends for the memorial tree to be for the officers' family members who say they feel the officers become forgotten after the memorials immediately following their deaths.

"Christmas is the time for the family, and so let's remember the families, not only the officer, but the families," he said, Lopez said he wants to sponsor a tree each year and order larger trees as needed to fit ornaments as the response grows.

"We've sent memos out throughout the country and we're hoping after a while a tradition begins to be built, and we can get more and more participation." Lopez said.

"Families all over the place can see there is place for their loved ones to be remembered," Lopez said. "I'm deeply involved in this because I've lost some friends."

Among those whom Lopez knew who died in the line of duty, and remembered with ornaments on the tree, was San Jose police officer Robert White, killed in 1985 while clearing debris from a car accident.

"He unfortunately touched a fender and the nearby electrical box had been damaged and he was electrocuted," Lopez said.

"I know Bob White's mom, we sent her a message that her son's name will be up and she's going to come by here," Lopez said.

Another fellow officer Lopez worked with and is represented on the tree, San Jose police officer Desmond Casey, died in 1999 when he crash-landed his disabled air rescue helicopter in order to avoid endangering the lives of people off of Interstate Highway 880 near Alameda, Lopez said.

The ornaments with the officers' names and other glass ornaments for the tree were hand made by the Lodge's community outreach coordinator, Danielle Pirslin, Lopez said.

The fraternal order's Lodge 52, which offers public relations and other community support for police agencies, represents law enforcement officers in the South Bay Area from San Mateo to Monterey, according to Lopez.

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