DEMING — Officer Darian Jarrott had a reputation among his captains for always having a smile on his face.
“Even when there was a situation that was tough, the guy was always smiling,” said New Mexico State Police Chief Robert Thornton. “The guy never had a bad day.”
Jarrott was killed Thursday at the start of a violent pursuit that began in Deming and ended in Las Cruces with a police shootout with suspect Omar Felix Cueva, who was killed.
The 28-year-old officer from Lordsburg was assisting Homeland Security Investigations on Thursday afternoon when he pulled Cueva over east of Deming. According to state police, Cueva fired at least one shot at Jarrott, killing him.
Word of Jarrott’s death traveled quickly through Lordsburg, as residents began sharing tributes on Facebook.
On Twitter, state Rep. Candie Sweetser, a Democrat from Deming, wrote: “There are no words for how heartbreaking it is to lose an officer in the line of duty — especially an officer from such a close community as Lordsburg.”
Jarrott was the father of three children, expecting a fourth, and friends remembered him as a loving and protective family man.
His community in New Mexico’s southwest corner was stunned by Jarrott’s killing.
“My heart hurts for him and his family,” said Ty Hendrix, a longtime friend of Jarrott and his girlfriend.
Hendrix, a former detention center officer, said law enforcement is rooted deeply in Lordsburg and bonds are strong.
“Most of us that are from that area, growing up in the small town of Lordsburg, you have your uncles and your dad or somebody in your family that was law enforcement,” Hendrix said.
Jarrott’s death was “hitting the community hard,” said Maureen Thornock, owner of Kranberry’s Restaurant in Lordsburg.
At the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy in Santa Fe, Jarrott was trained by Roger Jimenez, who today is chief of the Española Police Department.
“Jarrott was one of those guys that — for me, I just got that feeling like this kid was there for the right reasons,” Jimenez said Friday morning. “He wanted to truly help people. Always had a smile on his face, always seemed to want to do the right thing.
“You could tell that he really wanted to be out there to save people, save lives and to work in a community setting to help,” Jimenez continued. “This is the kind of kid you want representing your department because he does it so well: He does it with a smile and professionalism. He was taken off this world too soon.”
Jarrott’s death came just a day after a shooting involving Deming police and Homeland Security Investigations, in which an armed suspect was fatally shot by police near Interstate 10.
Thornton said Jarrott was certified as a law enforcement officer at the end of 2014, initially working with the former Motor Transportation Division of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety. He served as a state police officer since July 2015.
On Thursday night, Thornton gave a brief statement and took questions from reporters for 20 minutes with tears on his face.
“It’s a huge loss for us,” the chief said. “I just want people to understand the amount of sacrifice that officers do on a daily basis when they put this uniform on. … When you leave that academy, you know what you’re getting into to a point, but I don’t think you ever understand what potentially you’re going to sacrifice.”
Multiple agencies responded to the pursuit of Cueva, who was killed after engaging officers from several agencies — Las Cruces police, state police, the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Border Patrol — in a shootout on the interstate around 12:30 p.m.
A Las Cruces police officer was wounded and taken to a hospital with injuries not considered to be life-threatening, and was later released.
Thornton confirmed Jarrott’s body was escorted from El Paso first to Deming and then to Albuquerque.
One of Jarrott’s fellow Lordsburg High School alumni remembered him as someone who liked to win yet understood: “To win, it took everyone.”
Feliciano Daniel Talavera recalled seeing that side of Jarrott on the football field, when Talavera was a sophomore, two years younger than Jarrott.
“After the play was called, he got in my face and said something along the line of, ‘Stay behind me and we’ll score,’ ” Talavera said. “I got the ball, got behind him, he blocked and I went for a 75-yard touchdown.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered flags across the state to half-staff from Friday through sunset Tuesday to honor Jarrott.
“I am horrified as we grieve another life cut down, another family crushed by senseless violence in our state,” the governor said in a statement. “Violent crime is a scourge on New Mexico, and the men and women who step up and put on the badge to protect our communities fight it with everything they’ve got every day.
“We are and must remain grateful for their heroic service every single day — and moments like this remind us why.”