Though several years have passed since Merced police officer Stephan Gray was killed, there was no forgetting on Sunday, and there was no let-up in the crowd that gathers every year to commemorate him.
Nearly 90 people, including several uniformed officers, stood outside of the Merced Police Department headquarters on West 22nd Street to honor Gray on the eighth anniversary of his death.
Gray, 34, was killed April 15, 2004, by Cuitlahuac Tahua "Tao" Rivera during a traffic stop along Glen Avenue. He was the first Merced police officer ever murdered in the line of duty.
After an extensive manhunt, Rivera was arrested, convicted of murder and now sits on death row in San Quentin State Prison.
But Sunday, friends, family and former co-workers of Gray recalled fond memories of him and the legacy he left behind.
Sean Ford, a close friend of Gray's, said that despite the heartbreak in 2004, he still feels like Gray is with him, and is constantly reminded of him.
"He was a Dallas Cowboys fan -- I hated the Dallas Cowboys," Ford said. "I am now a Dallas Cowboys fan. Ever since Stephan's been gone, I've been a Cowboys fan -- that's one of the things that, every football season, reminds me of him."
Michelle Gray, Stephan's widow, also spoke briefly at the event, and said she sees the Merced Police Department as a family.
Chief Norm Andrade of the Merced Police Department shares that sentiment and said those who worked with Gray as well as his family have grown closer and stronger since his death.
"I have seen the winds of heartache and the grief that has blown through our lives with the tragic death of Stephan eight years ago," he said. "But as I look around here today, I see the roots of support to the left, to the right, in front and in back of us. These are the roots helping us to sustain."
It's easy to take day-to-day life for granted, but "chance can change everything in an instant," Andrade said during the 20-minute ceremony that started at 10 a.m. Sunday morning.
"The loss of Stephan will not be forgotten by his Merced family or the grateful city for which he served," he said.
The sense of security in Merced doesn't evolve on its own, Andrade noted.
"Stephan's life ended as he worked to make sure that our lives would continue safely," he said. "He answered the sacred call of duty, and paid the ultimate price."
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or email@example.com.