North Kansas City community holds candlelight vigil for fallen Officer Daniel Vasquez

Published: Jul. 20, 2022 at 9:28 PM CDT
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NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - The North Kansas City Police Department parking lot is full of flowers, notes and candles placed by mourning community members who held a candlelight vigil Wednesday night for Officer Daniel Vasquez.

Vasquez was killed in the line of duty Tuesday during a traffic stop for an expired temporary license plate around 10:40 a.m. near 21st and Clay in North Kansas City.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Joshua T. Rocha, the man prosecutors say confessed to killing Vasquez, could face the death penalty or spend the rest of his life in prison without parole.

As the sun began to set Wednesday, candles illuminated the police department parking lot. Many in the crowd needed a place to grieve.

“He was my baby brother,” Officer Vasquez’s sister, Areli Vasquez, said. “His dream was to be a police officer because he wanted to serve the community he wanted to be a hero. They took him away from us.”

Ever since a suspect shot and killed Vasquez, community members have stopped to place flowers, notes and keepsakes for Officer Vasquez, his family, and his coworkers.

“I had to stop and say a prayer. It’s a shame. It’s got to stop,” resident Rodney Welchen said. “This man was just doing his job.”

Teresa Stuckenschneider drove from Gladstone to bring flowers to a memorial at the police station.

“We have a really dear friend who is a sergeant,” Stuckenschneider said while holding back tears. “I didn’t know this man but I went to high school here, so we chose purple and gold flowers for him. To know that he was 32 years old is a devastating loss not only to this community, to Kansas City and to his family. We pray he is in heaven.”

“Thank you, everybody, for coming,” Areli Vasquez said. “I know he loved this community and every community he served.”

The first line of duty death in the North Kansas City Police Department’s history hit far too close to home for long time community members.

“I grew up in this city. I could ride my bike and walk without a fear about anything. We are all sad,” longtime NKC resident Ron Whited said.  “He was shot and killed right next to my grandfather’s house. When I came down and discovered the memorial, I was taken aback.”

Local FOP Lodges have created a fund for Vasquez’s family. All donations go to support Officer Vasquez’s relatives. Donations are also being accepted at local Price Chopper stores.

After a line of duty death of a first responder, another local organization reaches out to support their grieving family within 24-48 hours. Representatives from the Surviving Spouse and Family Endowment, known as S.A.F.E., present them with a check for $25,000. The organization accepts donations to help ensure they have funding to help any relatives of first responders who lost their life in the line of duty.

“I say to them, this isn’t a family you ever wanted to be a part of, but you are now and we’re going to be there to support them going forward,” Raymore Police Chief and S.A.F.E. Director Jan Zimmerman said. “We make sure that those families are supported, you know, even after the tragedy has happened. It is always a good way to support first responders all throughout the metro. We cover 12 counties.”

On Wednesday, the Clay County Prosecutor announced prosecutors charged Rocha with first degree murder and armed criminal action. His bond is set at $2 million dollars. Court records show Rocha walked into the Clay County Courthouse Annex Tuesday and told an employee he needed to turn himself in. When asked why he said, “I committed a murder.”

Police say after he was read his Miranda rights, he admitted he shot the officer because he did not want to go to jail or have his car towed.

KCTV5 News found a warrant had previously been issued for Rocha after he failed to appear in court. He was previously charged in March of this year in North Kansas City Municipal Court.

According to a citation, Rocha displayed an expired Missouri temporary license plate, operated a motor vehicle while having a revoked license, failed to provide valid proof of insurance, possessed a digital scale and narcotics grinder with narcotic residue, and possessed a green leafy substance that tested positive for marijuana.

Rocha was charged with failure to register a vehicle, driving while suspended or revoked, operating a motor vehicle without maintaining financial responsibility, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana. A warrant was issued for failure to appear.

In a separate 2020 traffic stop, Rocha was charged with expired plates and driving while suspended or revoked. In both counts, a show cause summons for failure to appear was filed in court.

KCTV5 News plans to attend Rocha’s first court appearance for the first-degree murder and armed criminal action charges Thursday afternoon. Stay with KCTV5 for updates.

Previous coverage:

‘Just unfathomable’: NKC officer shot during traffic stop dies from injuries

Price Chopper accepting donations for Officer Vasquez’s family

NKC officer killed Tuesday is 8th area officer killed in line of duty in 6 years

‘I committed murder’: Suspect admits to shooting officer, documents say

Man charged in connection with fatal shooting of NKC officer

Joshua Rocha charged with murder in shooting death of Ofc. Daniel Vasquez

Local leaders, police departments take to social media after officer is fatally shot in North Kansas City