Palm Springs community holds vigil for slain officers Jose Vega, Lesley Zerebny

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (KABC) -- It was an emotional Sunday night at the Palm Springs Police Department as the community, family, friends and department honored two fallen officers.

With candles and flowers, mourners paid respects at a growing memorial in front of the police department. While many never knew Palm Springs officers Jose Vega and Lesley Zerebny, others had worked by their sides.

Retired officer Marc Melanson said Vega, who went by the nickname Gil, was a kind and dedicated person to work with.

"Gil was extremely dedicated to the job, loved coming to work and was always pleasant. Everyone around him was always so much happier to be around him," he said.

Vega's love for his job and his family was part of the focus of the memorial. Some of his family members, including his daughter, nephew and grandson, spoke during the vigil. He left behind his wife and eight children.

"He loved me no matter what. He would hug me every time he would see me, and it's a shame that he is gone. I can't believe somebody could take his life," Ricardo Hinojoso said.

"To witness her husband in full Riverside County Sheriff's uniform, because he's a deputy sheriff, kiss her on the forehead for the last time, it's tough," said Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes in tears.

Investigators said the 35-year veteran was the first one to walk up to the door when three officers responded to a family disturbance call on Saturday. The suspect, 26-year-old Palm Springs resident John Felix, is said to have opened fire from inside his house, killing Vega and Zerebny.

When Felix finally gave himself up about 12 hour later, authorities said he came out wearing soft body armor and carrying ammunition.

The two officers were on opposite ends of their careers as Vega was set to retire in December and Zerebny had spent about 18 months at the department. She had just returned from maternity leave. Zerebny leaves behind her husband, a Riverside County sheriff's deputy, and a 4-month-old daughter.

Felix is being held without bail and faces two counts of murder of a police officer with special circumstances, among other charges. He could face the death penalty.

The third officer, who responded to the scene with Vega and Zerebny, had been injured in the shooting. He was released from the hospital Sunday evening and is recovering at home.
Copyright © 2021 KABC Television, LLC. All rights reserved.