Memorial in place for fallen Merced police officers

MERCED, Calif.

Sadness, gratitude, and a sense of redemption filled a ceremony outside the Merced Police Department.

Detective Joe Deliman said, "This has been a long time coming."

A large crowd gathered for the unveiling of a monument honoring the city's two officers killed in the line of duty. Sergeant Edward Leap died in a car accident in November of 1946.

Detective Joe Deliman said, "Sgt. Leap left behind a wife and four children."

Decades later, Officer Stephan Gray was gunned down following a traffic stop on April 15, 2004.

Former Merced Police Chief Tony Dosetti said, "On this date 10 years ago, the Merced Police Department took a Mohammed Ali punch to the stomach, and it took the wind out of every man, woman and employee of this department and most of the city."

The murder sparked a massive manhunt that ended with the arrest of Tao Rivera. His trial was moved to Colusa County, where he was ultimately sentenced to death.

Gray's widow, Michelle, spoke about the special moments her husband has missed with their three children.

"Sunday, our oldest daughter Landiss got engaged," said Michelle. "My delight and excitement for her was in the forefront, yet I couldn't help being sad and somewhat angry that Stephan will not be there to give his daughters away."

But she also said this memorial will always be a place where her family and others can remember the lives of two local heroes. It features a granite wall and angel wings with hands holding a badge -- and was funded through private donations.

Officer Krista Stokes played a key role in planning the project after losing her own father in the line of duty as a child.

Officer Stokes added, "One of the most important things to the family of a fallen officer is that their loved one never be forgotten."

Now this monument will forever stand as a tribute to the officers' service and sacrifice.

The Merced Police Department also plans to honor its fallen officers by including their stories in the training all new recruits receive.

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