A model cop with a wide smile, jovial personality and contagious sense of humor that brought joy to those around him.
That's how those who remember Officer Stephan Gray described him Thursday, the sixth anniversary of his death.
Gray's fellow officers held a solemn ceremony at the department's 22nd Street headquarters Thursday, honoring the life and legacy of their fallen brother, the first Merced police officer murdered in the line of duty.
Merced Police Chief Norm Andrade remarked that the anniversary is a chance to remember Gray's sacrifice, and what his legacy means to the department. "He's given us an opportunity to think about our families, and to thank them for every day that they suffer along with us," Andrade said.
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"It's given us an opportunity to care for each other. And he has given us an opportunity to remember that life is very short and we need to value each and every day."
During the ceremony, Lt. Bimley West led officers in prayer, and the American Flag was lowered to half-staff.
Gray's widow, Michelle Gray, wasn't able to attend the ceremony. She sent a message to the department, saying she's visiting the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington D.C., with family. In the note, she thanked everyone for attending Thursday's ceremony.
Those who worked with Gray said he was known for his laughter -- and he also liked to sing. His best friend, Sgt. Chris Goodwin, described Gray as a caring man who looked out for others. "I remember an officer left here, decided to come back and get hired here, and they didn't have a place to stay," Goodwin remembers. "And (Gray) offered his house. That's how Stephan was. He was that kind of caring person. Did that on and off the job."
Goodwin was hired by the department about 14 years ago, around the same time that Gray joined it. He and Gray were partners for several years, working cases involving gangs and narcotics. They also both served on the SWAT Team.
In homage to Gray, Goodwin has an American Flag tattooed on his back, along with a ribbon bearing the number "106" -- Gray's badge number. "It's on my back because he always had my back," Goodwin explained.
Although Gray was known to be a joker who "could also take a joke," Goodwin said his work ethic was top-notch, and he was serious when it came to protecting the community. "It's a sad day and always will be," Goodwin reflected. "But on the other end, it's a day for me to remember Stephan, too, and the good things. But it is a day of sadness because I don't get to see him -- and I miss him."
Andrade shared similar remembrances about Gray, saying he was always known to break into song. "He always had a good time at what he was doing. He enjoyed the job," Andrade said. "He was always singing. He enjoyed everything that he did, and he made us enjoy what we did."
Gray was shot to death by a gang member during a traffic stop on April 15, 2004. His killer was arrested after a lengthy manhunt, convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.