In the days following the fatal shooting of Chandler undercover narcotics Detective Carlos Ledesma, no photographs of him were publicly released as the department cited the dangers that came along with his job and for his co-workers in the future.
But as nearly 4,000 people attended the slain officer’s funeral on Wednesday — including 2,500 crammed inside the Mission Community Church in Gilbert where Ledesma, his wife and two young sons worshiped for the last year — Carlos Ledesma was revealed through pictures, a slideshow inside the sanctuary featuring family photographs and emotional words from friends, co-workers and his sister:
An uncompromising warrior, a loving husband and father, a former Marine sergeant, a friend with a sense of humor who never did anything halfway.
Ledesma 34, also was described as someone who loved music and once was invited to play the clarinet on the steps of the White House. It was an instrument he learned to play in high school music camp because that’s the what the cutest girl in the band played. He later turned down a music scholarship at University of the Pacific in California to serve in the Marines, according to a family friend.
“Carlos never tried to be a flashy guy, but he was someone who kept things simple,” said Mark Connelly, senior pastor of Mission Community Church.
Connelly, who said Ledesma had grown in his spiritual life as a Christian especially in the last year, had a laugh that could fill the room.
“Few men could live in the filth of society and return home to be a loving husband and father,” Connelly said. “He deeply loved his family. He was a hero who died protecting the community.”
Ledesma was pronounced dead from multiple gunshot wounds at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix on July 28, soon after he and two other undercover Chandler officers were shot inside a south Phoenix home about 7 p.m. that evening while staging a $250,000 marijuana sale gone wrong, according to police. One of the officers has been released from the hospital and the other remains hospitalized but is beginning to recover and no longer has life-threatening injuries, according to Sgt. Joe Favazzo, a Chandler police spokesman.
Two of the suspects involved in the crime were shot and killed by police; five of six surviving suspects have been charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and drug-related charges, and one suspect remains hospitalized.
Ernie Thompson Sr. of Stockton, Calif. where Ledesma grew up, was the first of a number of people to speak about Ledesma during the service.
Thompson remembered Ledesma as a young man growing up with his eight sons, who often would walk through their front door without knocking and once talked him into tearing up part of their front lawn and replacing it with concrete for a 3-point line on the basketball court in the driveway.
“He was like my son,” Thompson said. “He was always up for a challenge and always wanted to win.”
As Chandler police officers who worked closely with Ledesma and knew him as “Paunch” spoke about him during the service, Ledesma’s partner, Chandler officer Michael Moore, said of beginning to work with him, “I quickly learned that there was no one else I would rather have at my side.”
Chandler Sgt. Timothy Click said, “Where officers spend a fair amount of time getting to know each other while sitting in a squad car, he had no problem finding common ground with other people.”
Ledesma’s sister, Trina Ledesma-Leung, drew laughs when she spoke about her brother from their younger days.
She told a story about Carlos selling fruit from their refrigerator to neighbors after their mother stopped giving him money to play “Pac-Man” at a nearby store. Ledesma-Leung also said her brother coaxed her into making cupcakes to sell so he could have more money to continue playing the video game.
“He was determined not to take no for an answer,” Ledesma-Leung said. “I know I have the strongest angel watching over me, and I will miss you.”
Chandler Police Chief Sherry Kiyler also spoke and thanked law enforcement agencies from around the state and the country for the outpouring of support.
“We know this is a profound and unimaginable loss,” Kiyler said. “We know nothing can make this pain go away. Not right now. You all have reminded us how you value what we do.”
Hundreds of officers from around the state and the country attended the service, including some from Spirit Lake, Iowa, where Ledesma began his law enforcement career after serving in the Marines. Officers Matt Blomquist and Freddy Alamanza from the Chicago Police Department’s gang unit also attended the service. Chicago has had four officers killed in the line of duty in the last five months, said Blomquist.
“It’s an honor just to be here,” Blomquist said. “We come here to show our support.”
In closing out the service, Connelly said, “Many of us would ask of this tragedy, ‘Why would God allow such a thing to happen?’ The world is not operating as God originally designed it. Do not let the enemy win over your heart in this tragedy.”
As people were leaving Doug Coleman, assistant special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Phoenix office, was among them. Coleman has been a special agent with the DEA since 1990. He is in charge of DEA enforcement groups in Phoenix that investigate dangerous drug operations and infiltrate drug cartels.
“It’s a very sad day,” Coleman said of Ledesma’s death. “It’s an unfortunate tragic event and a reminder that members of law enforcement put their lives in danger protecting the community every day. Any time you’re working in a capacity where you’re portraying yourself as something you’re not, it’s a danger. Things can always change in a heartbeat from what you think was going to happen to a tragedy.”
Donations being accepted:
The Ledesma Family Memorial Fund
Wells Fargo Bank (any branch)
Information: (480) 782-4341 or (480) 782-4121