It has been little more than two weeks since the daddy of 8-year-old Vanessa Vega went off to work like any other day. But he didn’t come home that night.
And he never will.
Palm Springs Police officer Jose Gil Vega was shot to death, along with colleague Lesley Zerebny, on Oct. 8. Since then, there have been funerals, memorials, media tributes, long lines of families and friends and little time to face hard facts in solitude.
Then came Monday - time for Vanessa to go back to fourth grade, where everyone knew her father was dead and probably everyone wondered what to say to the little girl.
But the Palm Springs Police Department wasn’t about to let Vanessa walk those hall alone. Unbeknownst to her, a group of officers lined up outside her house that morning and proceeded to escort her to school.
They ran the lights on their patrol cars. They walked her all the way to her classroom, then posed for photos and met the other kids. She smiled the whole time.
“She has 50 uncles for the rest of her life who probably won’t let her date until she is about the age of 50,” department spokesman Sgt. William Hutchinson told InsideEdition.com Tuesday night.
“It’s kind of sinking in now, her loss … She’s in a really tough time right now,” Hutchinson said.
The desert community of Palm Springs, and especially the police department, were riven by the killings of Vega, 63, and Zerebny, 27, who had just returned from maternity leave and had a 4-month-old daughter.
“The blue family is tight,” said Hutchinson.
And all 96 members of the PSPD are dedicated to being surrogate dads and moms to Vanessa and to baby Cora, Zerebny’s infant girl.
But it’s Vanessa who needs their attention most.
“She has to know that we are going to do our best to make sure she has support. We want her to know, ‘You know what, kiddo? We’re standing proud with you. We know this is tough,’’’ Hutchinson said.
Vanessa is the youngest of eight children, and the only one still living at home, he said.
Fellow officers have been spending part of every day with both families. “We try not to be intrusive,” Hutchinson said. Mostly, colleagues offer to run errands, do some yard work, whatever they can do to help.
For Vanessa, the offer is a 24-hour line of support.
“We want her to feel like she’s our daughter,” Hutchinson said. “She can call on any of us at any time.”
The veteran cop calls Vanessa “a very smart little girl” with lots of character. She was proud to walk among men in blue Monday, he said.
“She hugged everybody.”
They won’t be taking her to school every day, he said. But they are there when needed. “If there are any bullies on the way, you just let us know,” Hutchinson said.