May 11, 2004
Mesa’s Westwood High School dedicated a garden Monday in the memory of fallen Chandler police officer Rob Nielsen.
"In every sense of the word, he was truly a Westwood Warrior," assistant principal Rod Castillo said. "This courtyard stands as a memorial for those of us who mourn."
Nielsen, a 1995 Westwood graduate, died at age 25 on June 12, 2002, when his Ford Crown Victoria patrol car exploded in a collision while he was responding to a crash.
While a student at Westwood, Nielsen served as the Warrior mascot during football games and had roles in the school’s drama productions of "Harvey" and "Arsenic and Old Lace." He also participated in the school’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program, where met his wife, Ann Marie.
"He was a very fun young man with a good sense of humor," said Westwood math teacher Rich Impson. "He was a happy guy."
Nielsen’s parents attended the dedication ceremony, along with about 50 other family members, friends, Westwood staff members and Chandler Police Department representatives. A brass quintet of Westwood students played "Amazing Grace," ROTC cadets presented the colors and a school choir sang the national anthem.
Afterward, Nielsen’s parents unveiled a stone monument to their son in one corner of the garden. Trees, plants and a bench adorn other parts of the courtyard, which is surrounded by a white picket fence.
Family and consumer science teacher Mary Sarwark, whose classroom borders the courtyard, said the area stood for years as a campus eyesore.
"When I came here, that was a big mud pit, and they called it Lake Westwood," she said.
The area will be used for events such as receptions and art shows.