Isabel Nazario is recalled as a pioneer. Officer's death hits Latino colleagues hard Officer's death hits Latinos hard

Posted: September 09, 2008

The death Friday of Officer Isabel Nazario was particularly painful among the Police Department's Latinos and in the city's Puerto Rican community, who remembered her as a doting mother and friend, as a tough professional, and as a pioneer.

"It's devastating to lose one of our members," said Eddie Lopez, vice president of the Spanish American Law Enforcement Association. "To lose the first female Latina member, we're all trying to deal with it the best we can."

Lopez said that Nazario, who joined the association shortly after becoming a policewoman, made friends as easily on the force as she did while growing up in Hunting Park and attending Olney High School.

"She was a very outgoing person, very sweet," Lopez said. "She never had an attitude. She was always polite."

Nazario, 40, an 18-year veteran, was mortally wounded and her partner, Officer Terry Tull, was gravely injured when their cruiser was T-boned by a stolen Cadillac Escalade at 39th and Wallace Streets about 9:30 p.m. on Friday. A West Philadelphia teenager has been charged with multiple offenses, including third-degree murder, in the case.

Nazario's fiance, Officer Carlos Buitrago of the 25th District, said he hugged and kissed her before her shift Friday, and spoke to her about an hour before the accident because he needed to hear her voice "just to know she was OK."

Then he got a call directing him to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where Nazario had been taken. He said he knew it was bad because he saw a massive turnout of officers, including police brass.

"I just started calling out her name and ran to the emergency room, where they were working on her," he said last night, pausing. "It's just so sad. . . . She filled my life with such happiness."

Although they had known each other since 1985, their first date was in April last year. They talked about love and the hurt that comes with it. Then they talked about their love for their children - her 15-year-old daughter and his sons, ages 14 and 16. Recently, he said, they told their families that they planned to marry, buy a house together, and merge their families.

Nazario's colleagues and others in the Latino community yesterday remembered her as a graceful, impeccable and steady figure who doted on her daughter, Jazmin.

"It struck a lot of people very hard," said Quetcy Lozada, chief of staff to City Councilwoman Maria Quiones Sanchez, and who counted herself a personal friend.

Officer Maria Carrasquillo, who called Nazario "the sister I never had," remembers how excited Nazario was when she was accepted into the Police Academy.

When Carrasquillo had her first child, Nazario was there to support her, she said.

Angel Ortiz, a former city councilman who described Nazario as a "pioneer," said: "There are not that many Latinos on the force, so when one passes in such a violent way, it is felt in a deep way."

The last Latino on the force to die on the job was Jos "Pete" Ortiz. He was killed Sept. 18, 2000, when he was accidentally struck by a police cruiser while in pursuit of a robbery suspect in the Fairhill section of the city.

The other three women who died on duty were: Officer Sandra Griffin, 31, who died Feb. 13, 1983, of injuries suffered in an automobile accident while driving her personal car; Officer Lauretha Vaird, who was gunned down Jan. 2, 1996, while responding to a bank robbery; and Officer Pauline Harness, 49, who was killed June 19, 1996, when her baton became tangled in a stair railing in a garage at Philadelphia International Airport and she fell to the concrete floor.

Detective Margarita Castro of Major Crimes said Nazario had sought her advice recently while planning a Sweet Sixteen party for her daughter.

"I admired her because she was very professional in the way she carried herself," Castro said, noting that she dressed carefully, pulled her hair in a bun, and kept her nails perfectly manicured.

"She was feminine, but tough," Castro said.

Funeral and Trust Fund Information

Two viewings have been scheduled for Officer Isabel Nazario.

The first is from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the John F. Givnish Funeral Home, 10975 Academy Rd., Northeast Philadelphia.

The second is at 7:30 a.m. Friday at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, 18th Street and the Parkway. It will be followed by a Funeral Mass at noon. Interment will be in her native Puerto Rico.

A trust fund has been set up for her family. Donations should be sent to the Isabel Nazario Family Memorial Trust Fund, Police & Fire Credit Union, 901 Arch St., Philadelphia 19107.

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