CHICAGO -- Alejandro "Alex" Valadez Jr. never got to meet his father, so more than 20 Chicago police officers filled in to help celebrate the boy's kindergarten graduation Friday.
Officer Alejandro "Alex" Valadez, was killed in the line of duty in 2009 when he and his partner were investigating a report of shots fired in West Englewood. The convicted gunman was sentenced to 125 years in prison in 2011. Valadez died three months before his son was born.
At Annunciata Church in the East Side neighborhood on Friday, Valadez's fellow officers made his son the man of the hour, cheering him on as he received his kindergarten diploma, shaking his hand after the ceremony and pinning badges onto his custom-made police uniform.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson spoke to the children and assembled parents briefly during the ceremony, touching on the difficulties of being a police officer.
"Sometimes you have to make the ultimate sacrifice," Johnson said. "Alex Sr. did that. ... He was part of the CPD family then, he's a part of the CPD family now, you're a part of the CPD family forever."
Johnson's appearance came on the day that the city released information about 87 cases of forceful police encounters with residents.
The Annunciata School event was put together by the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation with the permission of Annunciata and the child's family, organizer Kate McMahon said.
Alex, who wore a light blue dress shirt and a yellow tie, sat in a back corner of the stage during the ceremony. He sang and danced enthusiastically with his classmates as they showed off such abilities as counting to 100 in fives and naming the months of the year. The contingent of officers formed a row beside the audience.
The boy was called last to receive his diploma and walk in front of the stage for a photo. After loud cheers from the audience and officers subsided, he posed with his colorful certificate, flanked by Johnson and Officer Tom Vargas, who is his godfather and was his father's partner.
After the graduation ceremony, the children were greeted by the officers, police horses and dogs, a group of firefighters and two firetrucks with their ladders raised outside the church.
"That's what they do when they honor someone who died," one mother explained to her child quietly.
Alex emerged from the church in his uniform, a police hat on his head. Surrounded by photographers and news crews, the boy walked, grinning, through the ranks of officers as they welcomed him into the family. A CPD helicopter circled overhead, and other students at the school watched the commotion from the windows. In the parking lot, the youngster's classmates took turns honking the firetruck horns.
Valadez's fiance, Christina Rodriguez, kept a close watch on her son as he wove his way around the crowd. Rodriguez, who declined to speak with reporters, is also a police officer. She posed for pictures with the boy and the officers, and gave Johnson a hug.
Deputy police Chief Keith Calloway, who was Valadez's commander, called the slain officer dedicated and hard-working.
"He was fun to be around, he and his partner were always in the middle of something," he said. "We'll never forget his sacrifice."
"It's just a shame (Valadez's) son had to grow up without even knowing him," Johnson said. "We need little Alex to know we're always here for him."
The boy completed a second rite of passage that morning. In a corner of the parking lot behind a police van, Valadez's family surrounded him as a handful of officers unveiled a brand new bike.
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