At first, 12-year-old Madeleine Cabrera didn’t notice the nine uniformed police officers lined up outside Morris Middle School in McAllen on Monday morning.
It was still early, just a little after 7:15 a.m., and Madeleine’s mother, Amy, had to point the men out for her daughter.
Madeleine asked what the police officers were doing there.
“I said, ‘Well, they’re here for you, Maddie,’” Amy said.
Maddie’s face broke into a smile.
The officers were there to welcome Madeleine to her first day of school after a particularly tough summer. Her father Jorge, a 12-year Mission Police Department veteran, died of COVID-19 in August.
Like the thousands of other coronavirus casualties the Rio Grande Valley has sustained in the last year, Jorge’s death left behind an immense burden of grief on the shoulders of Madeleine, her siblings and her mother.
Amy says her husband was an involved father — a frequent laugher with a big personality. She says the house has been quiet since he died.
A devout Christian, Jorge was a Sunday school teacher and a regular around First Baptist Church in McAllen.
It didn’t have to be Sunday for him to spread the good word. Amy says he was a constant spiritual advisor to their children, and even to his fellow police officers.
“He was always trying to minister to the officers of the PD,” she said. “You know, they would come to him with their problems and he was not afraid to tell them, ‘Hey what you’re doing, this is not biblical. This is what the Bible says.’ He was very bold.”
Jorge, 42, was infected with COVID-19 over the summer and died on Aug. 24. He was buried on Madeleine’s birthday.
Amy was determined to keep Madeleine’s memory of her birthday and of her father pleasant, something she could look back on with more pride than sorrow. She organized a drive-by birthday parade, with Edinburg police officers driving by the Cabrera home, lights flashing and sirens blazing.
“That was her favorite part,” Amy said. “Out of all the presents and all the people that were there, she really, really loved the police cars.”
There were other signs of solidarity from the law enforcement community too: a mile-long police escort over the summer, an impromptu shrine at the police department, help from officers with paperwork and meetings regarding the death, and even some pro-bono mechanic work to get Jorge’s truck fixed up for his son to drive.
“It’s been huge,” Amy said. “I didn’t realize how badly I would need them and their support.”
Thursday was the latest show of support. Madeleine’s been homeschooled most of her life, and Monday was her first time attending a large public school.
“Maddie was very nervous and anxious. She was having a lot of anxiety actually about starting school, because this is her second year in school,” Amy said. “I knew that them being there for her, to encourage her, I knew that it would really mean a lot to her.”
Madeleine stopped for a picture with the officers outside the school Monday before she went inside.
Chief Robert Dominguez gave her a backpack, a gift from the department. Madeleine giggled under her face mask when he bent down to say something in her ear.
Then she stepped through the front doors to face her first day of sixth grade.
Amy says it was a sight her husband would have enjoyed seeing.
“I think he would have been so proud,” she said. “I think he would have loved it.”