His name was Candido Suarez. A former U.S. Marine, he came to this country as a Cuban refugee at the age of five and settled in New Jersey. Growing up, he met and married another Cuban-born citizen, Liliana, known as Lily.
Suarez made the leap from Marine to police work while taking college courses aboard the Marine Corps base where he was stationed. An excellent athlete who excelled in skiing and mountain biking, he sailed through the oral boards, and it was easy to see why.
Suarez was charming, quick-thinking and, above all, had one of the quickest wits I'd ever seen. A natural interviewer, his fast thinking and deductive skills landed him in the narcotics division and in SWAT.
Then he worked on a task force solving a horrific double-murder that took investigators to Florida and the Dominican Republic. Assigned to the case for more than a year, he went to the detective division when he returned. That's where we partnered up.
Suarez and I worked well together and grew very close. My kids thought of him as part of the family. He and Lily (and eventually their baby daughter) were as comfortable in our home as we were in their's. It was a working partnership that was also a deep friendship.
Over time I watched him grow more and more stressed by the hours, low pay and constant balancing act between home and work. He continued to do a good job — he was too good a cop not to give it his all — but it was clear things were getting to him. Then he was offered a chance he couldn't pass up.
A large corporation invited him to come to work in their fraud investigations division in South Florida at a nice, fat salary. Although he loved police work and preferred it to private sector investigations, he accepted the position and moved.
We spoke often, and he appeared happy. We always made plans to get our families together again, but didn't. Then he had a stroke. He recovered, but Lily said he was never quite the same.
Not long after his recovery from the stoke, he was the innocent victim of an accident that stirred up some heart problems. One day following a stress test at his doctor's he began having chest pains.
Lily says they were in the emergency room when he looked at her and said, "You know I love you, right?" She said she did, then he closed his eyes and the world lost one great cop and fine human being. He was barely out of his 30s.
He told me several times that his years as a police officer were the best of his life and he regretted leaving. If he could have made enough money to live on, he would have stayed, no matter what the hours — he loved it that much.
There is a proven link between stress, lack of sleep, overwork and poor health. It can lead to both strokes and heart attacks, and often does.
There were dozens of officers at Suarez's funeral and they came from every agency imaginable. And when the bagpiper played Amazing Grace, I couldn't help but think that if he'd made decent money and never had to worry about working extra jobs to make ends meet, that bagpiper might had had the day off. Suarez's name isn't on a memorial, but I believe the job he loved most in this world killed him just the same.
Here's for decent pay, enough people to do the job and public understanding of the price officers pay to do their jobs. As we should honor those who died in the line of duty and their families, leave a little room in your hearts for the silent, not so obvious victims, like Candido Suarez, as well.
A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations, and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at email@example.com.