LOS ANGELES -- Growing up in Northeast Los Angeles, Juan Jose Diaz developed a passion about a couple of Los Angeles institutions: He loved the Dodgers and ate cereal from a plastic team helmet. At 5 years old, he talked about someday wearing the uniform of a Los Angeles police officer.
Two years ago, Diaz joined the Los Angeles Police Department and worked his way into the Special Operations Division, a unit known for advanced surveillance techniques and investigations into department personnel.
But his childhood dream was short-lived: The young officer was shot and killed while off duty last month near a taco stand in Lincoln Heights, not far from the neighborhood where he grew up.
On Monday, several thousand mourners said their final goodbyes to Diaz during a funeral at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown that drew state and local officials, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva, dozens of family and friends and law enforcement from across the state and country who gathered to honor the 24-year-old officer.
"To all of us, it's a profound day of loss and sorrow," LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the crowd, calling Diaz a young man full of life and possibilities. "The men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department will never forget him."
In the early hours of July 27, Diaz was out grabbing a bite with his girlfriend and her two brothers when he spotted someone tagging a wall and told the person to stop, spurring a confrontation.
A group of young men approached Diaz after the exchange and began threatening him and his friends. One of the young men lifted his shirt to reveal a handgun. Diaz and his group tried to hurry to their car and drive away to avoid a violent encounter. But the suspects opened fire on Diaz, his girlfiend and her brothers. The gunfire injured one of the brothers, who was taken to a hospital and treated. Diaz died at the scene.
After a six-day manhunt, LAPD detectives arrested two men and a woman, identified as Francisco Talamantes, 23; Cristian Facundo, 20; and Ashlynn Smith, 18. All are residents of Temecula, in Riverside County, and are being held in jail without bail. Talamantes and Facundo face charges including murder with special circumstances and other counts that would make them eligible for the death penalty if convicted.
"He observed something that was not right," Father Tesfaldet Asghedom, pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lincoln Heights, told mourners. "He tried to correct it. Juan Jose Diaz tried to protect the beauty of our neighborhood."
Throughout the bilingual Mass, Diaz was remembered as someone who grew up in a tough environment and wanted to make a difference in the city.