DAYTON — Dayton Police Detective Jorge Del Rio was remembered Tuesday as the rare man who could do it all — peerless undercover agent, wise mentor to younger officers, fearless warrior against drug traffickers and warm, giving husband, father and friend.
Thousands of local residents and Del Rio’s law enforcement family paid tribute at a funeral service at University of Dayton Arena, eight days after Del Rio was shot leading a Dayton drug raid that seized more than 13 kilograms of narcotics. Del Rio died Thursday at 55.
“He died for his country in every sense of the word,” said Keith Martin, special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Detroit Field Division, of which Dayton is a part. “He gave his life for all of us. He is a true American hero.”
>> RELATED: PHOTOS: Procession for Detective Jorge Del Rio
Del Rio’s flag-draped casket was brought to the front of the dais at noon, accompanied by honor guards and saluted by bagpipers, as hundreds of law-enforcement officers held a minutes-long salute.
Law enforcement officers from every small and large community locally joined numerous members of the Ohio State Patrol, and officers from all around Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky to support the hundreds of Dayton Police on the arena floor.
Local and state leaders praised Del Rio at the service, but some of the most poignant comments came from Del Rio’s fellow DEA drug task force members. To protect the undercover officers’ identities, their sometimes tearful comments were recorded and played over the arena’s sound system.
They described Del Rio as the best undercover agent in the unit and a fantastic investigator. Given that talent, a female officer explained how she had anticipated being treated “like the rookie that I was,” adding, “but you made me feel like an equal.”
Del Rio was described by task force members as a brother and a friend forever, who “never stepped back … always stepped up.” There were stories about his “crazy” laugh that echoed down the hall, and about hanging out at his house with the daughters Del Rio was so proud of, with one officer calling them Jorge and the Del Rio-ettes.
But the theme of the day often came back to courage. As one colleague pointed out, Del Rio had a plaque at his desk that read, “Courage: Being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”
Fraternal Order of Police Chaplain Christopher Fischer said in his eulogy that Del Rio’s career was a picture of courage, from the time he dove into the Great Miami River to try to save a teenager, to when his undercover work thwarted a double murder for hire.
Del Rio was born in Mexico City, then moved with his parents to East Chicago, Ind., as a small child. After his father left, Fischer described Del Rio’s determination to learn English via comic books, television and the neighborhood kids, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University.
He met his wife Kathy when both were working for Elder-Beerman, and he graduated from the Dayton Police Academy and joined the force in 1989, with Fischer describing his growth from nervous rookie to respected veteran.
“We honor the badge by our services to the public,” Fischer said. “We display our unwavering courage to confront violent and armed criminals, as Jorge did last Monday. And we have the integrity to provide the same service shift after shift and year after year. This same honor, courage and integrity was Jorge’s modus operandi to our community for the past three decades.”
Gov. Mike DeWine said it takes a special person to do the “dangerous, demanding, tough work” that Del Rio did on the drug task force, calling him “just a natural (with) unique skills and talent.”
“Jorge Del Rio’s life confirmed the American dream,” DeWine said. “He came to this country from Mexico as a young child. The day Jorge Del Rio came to the United States was a lucky one for this great country, and particularly a lucky one for this community.”
Dayton leaders agreed. City Manager Shelley Dickstein called Del Rio “an extraordinary public servant” and a difference-maker, urging everyone listening to look for their chance to be difference-makers.
Mayor Nan Whaley applauded Del Rio and all Dayton first responders for rising to the task time and again in an extremely challenging year for the city. She thanked Del Rio’s family for the sacrifices they had made for decades as he did dangerous work.
“It is a sacrifice that can never be fully repaid, but it’s a sacrifice that Daytonians are forever grateful for,” Whaley said.
Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck said Del Rio was a perfectionist, crossing every “t” and dotting every “i” to make sure warrants and seizures held up in court. He also called the detective “genuinely a nice guy,” and expressed his sympathy to Del Rio’s wife and daughters.
“I’m outraged and angry that we lost Detective Del Rio due to a senseless, cowardly and most hateful, heinous act,” Heck said. “I want you to know that I will ensure that full and proper justice is given to you.”
Before the service, a beautiful collection of photos chronicling Del Rio’s life played on the arena video boards. They traced his path from teenager in a leather jacket, to new police officer and young family man, to accomplished detective posing with a massive pile of seized drugs.
For every photo of Del Rio in tactical gear or a HazMat suit, it seemed there were five smiling shots with his wife Kathy and 10 of him hamming it up with his girls, with the daughters gradually getting taller, and the hair on Del Rio’s chin a little grayer, eventually ending with DelRio’s loving gaze as he held a grandchild.
Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said Del Rio built community within the department in little ways, like getting people together for a meal and building relationships.
Biehl referenced Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, saying Del Rio had given his “last full measure of devotion” in commitment to the community, and it was now incumbent on his law enforcement brothers and sisters to increase their own devotion to that cause.
“He left a legacy of service and sacrifice to this noble profession that is rare even among the best of us,” Biehl said.
Del Rio was preceded in death by his mother Beatriz Hernandez and his daughter Dana Shafeek. He is survived by his wife Kathy Del Rio, daughters Ariel, Erica, Veronica and Naya, as well as three granddaughters and other family members.