Memorial service for 2 slain Palm Springs officers

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    PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Thousands of mourners were expected to attend a memorial service Tuesday for two California police officers shot to death this month after they responded to a domestic disturbance call at the home of the family of an ex-convict.

    Palm Springs officers Jose “Gil” Vega and Lesley Zerebny were to be honoured at the Palm Springs Convention Center before being laid to rest.

    Gov. Jerry Brown planned to attend the service and convention centre executive director James Canfield said at least 10,000 people were expected.

    A procession for Zerebny began early Tuesday, according to the Palm Spring Police Department’s Twitter page. A procession for Vega was expected to follow later in the morning.

    Authorities say the officers were killed Oct. 8 when 26-year-old gang member John Felix opened fire on them with an assault rifle through a metal screen door.

    The deaths of 63-year-old Vega and 27-year-old Zerebny rocked the tight-knit community 100 miles east of Los Angeles. Residents of the desert city of 47,000 have left scores of bouquets, balloons and notes outside the police station and have sold T-shirts to raise money for the officers’ families.

    They have also collected donated baby items for the family of Zerebny, who had recently returned from maternity leave after giving birth to a now-4-month-old daughter. Vega, a father of eight, was a 35-year veteran who was preparing to retire.

    Mona Lea, 81, said she lined up with many others at a drive-thru donation line set up last week outside City Hall. She had met Zerebny before, and was torn up by the loss.

    “I have never been involved in anything like this,” Lea, who has lived in Palm Springs more than three decades, said of the outpouring of support. “It is a small community, and it is hurt.”

    Felix has pleaded not guilty to murder, attempted murder and weapons charges. He is being held without bail and could face the death penalty, but prosecutors have not yet announced whether they will seek it.

    Authorities say Felix ambushed the officers and was intent on killing police.

    It has been tense year for police as officers have been shot to death in other cities including Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Palm Springs shooting occurred just three days after a popular Los Angeles County sheriff’s sergeant was shot and killed in the high desert city of Lancaster while answering a burglary call.

    And it occurred in a resort town known as warm and welcoming to tourists, retirees and the gay and lesbian communities.

    Robin Costello, whose husband is a Palm Springs police officer, said she has sold thousands of T-shirts honouring the fallen officers since they were donated last week to help Vega’s and Zerebny’s families. She said the community has always been close but she was struck by the support at last week’s fundraiser.

    “Kids were bringing piggy banks,” she said. “I felt so much love. There was a line of cars around City Hall all day.”

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