When Alex Valadez Jr. walked into his kindergarten graduation Friday, he did so with dozens of Chicago police officers by his side — and one watching over him from up above.
Alex’s father, Officer Alejandro Valadez Sr., was killed in the line of duty in 2009, just three months before his son was born.
With his father unable to cheer Alex on as he reached a major milestone in his young life, officers took it upon themselves to prove to Alex he will always be family, and to make the ceremony at Anunciata Elementary School one the young boy would never forget.
"Sometimes we have to make the ultimate sacrifice," said police Supt. Eddie Johnson. "Alejandro did that. We want everyone to know we will never forget; we will never, ever forget."
Valadez Sr., 27, was investigating a report of shots fired in the city’s West Englewood neighborhood when he was shot and killed by gang members.
Officers held Alex’s hand, hugged him and congratulated him as his father would have done. Mounted police, SWAT officers and even fire department crews were there to support him.
Some flew above the ceremony in a helicopter, watching from above as they believe his father does now.
They even surprised him with a big graduation present: a new bike.
"It’s been really cool," said Alex’s mom, Christina, who said she was grateful for all the support the department has given her family.
Despite the family's loss, a smile stretched across Alex's face as he marked the big achievement.
His father's partner, Tom Vargas, was there the day Valadez was killed. Vargas stood by Alex’s side during graduation, calling the moment a bittersweet one.
"He’s with us," Vargas said of Valadez. "He’s with us all."