Candlelight vigils honor fallen officers, victims of violence

OCEANSIDE — A memorial run and four neighborhood candlelight vigils honored Oceanside police officers who died in the line of duty and all victims of violence.

The police and community remembrances were held Dec. 20. The date honors the day neighborhood police Officer Dan Bessant gave his life. He was targeted and killed when he pulled over a car for a routine traffic violation. All ceremonies held a moment of silence to remember Bessant, fellow officer Tony Zeppetella, who also died in the line of duty, and all victims of violence.

The Save Our Streets community group organized the candlelight vigils in four neighborhoods. Three were held in city parks that have experienced fatal shootings. One was held at the street intersection where Bessant was gunned down.

Jennifer Martinez, an employee at Chavez Resource Center, attended the vigil at Joe Balderrama Park in the Eastside neighborhood. Martinez said the annual community vigils have been held for 11 years along with the police run.

A group of residents and church leaders gathered on the lit basketball courts shortly after sunset to light candles, hear words of encouragement and pay their respects to victims.

There was also an opportunity for those gathered to share their thoughts and hopes for the community going forward. Martinez said the mood was proactive.

“Everybody was agreeing change needs to continue, and it takes community members one at a time to make those changes,” Martinez said.

Martinez said the annual vigils are important to reassure residents there is strength and unity in facing loss and improving community safety.

“There has been tragedy in each one of our neighbors, little Annabelle was murdered in the park playground the year beforehand,” Martinez said. “There’s hurt and pain in the community. Unity and encouragement shows change is able to take place.”

Vigils were also held at the start and end of the annual 3-mile run to honor officer Bessant.

“He was dedicated to solving the problems in city’s neighborhoods,” police Sgt. Kendrick Sadler said. “It was the ultimate sacrifice he paid for the police department and city of Oceanside.”

The memorial run began at Arthur Avenue and Gold Drive and finished at the police station on Mission Avenue. About 40 runners took part in the ceremonial run. Others gathered with them at the police station for a barbecue, to hear speakers and observe a moment of silence.

As part of the remembrance a candle was lit in front of a memorial plaque that lists Oceanside officer who gave their life in the line of duty.

Sadler said the gathering was a mix of somber reflection and joyful celebration of Bessant’s life and what he meant to the community. The remembrance ceremony ended on a positive note with food, fellowship and shared stories on good times with Bessant.

“We don’t want anybody to forget what he gave,” Sadler said. “It’s a time to honor Dan and remind ourselves the struggle and fight continues between good and evil.”

Candlelight vigils were also held at the Crown Heights Resource Center and Libby Lake Community Center.

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