Orozco ‘had a heart of gold,’ friends say

Six-year-old Scarlett O’Connor of Omaha says a prayer for Officer Kerrie Orozco outside Central Police Headquarters.

Friends and family on Thursday recalled slain Officer Kerrie Orozco as a caring and helpful person.

Jennifer Ploen, a longtime friend, said she will always remember her friend’s laugh and eagerness to help others.

Ploen said she hopes Orozco’s death will encourage everyone to care about people like Orozco did.

“Kerrie had a heart of gold,” Ploen said. “She really was an angel on Earth.”

Ploen went with her parents to sit with Orozco’s family at the hospital Wednesday night.

She said she couldn’t even begin to describe how devastated the family is to lose Orozco. Hector Orozco Lopez, Orozco’s husband, was especially taking the news hard.

“Hector — I don’t even know where he begins,” Ploen said. “But, he has a lot of people supporting him, and the family will stick together.”

Ploen said Orozco’s fellow officers at the hospital told stories about how Orozco treated everyone kindly, even if she was arresting them. Her former partner remembered a time she was transporting a man to jail and she asked him to tell her the best joke he knew.

“Kerrie always did know how to lighten the mood,” Ploen said.

Sarah Kock, Orozco’s cousin and principal of Walnut (Iowa) Elementary School, said of Orozco, “She was a wonderful and caring person who always gave her all.”

Tim McNeil, an uncle who lives in Omaha, said even as a little girl, Orozco showed a kind and helpful attitude.

At family gatherings, she would offer to take care of a relative’s toddler so the mom could have a break. She would volunteer to help cook or clean up at gatherings, whatever needed to be done, McNeil said.

McNeil remembers walking through county fairs with Orozco when she was a teenager. She could spot children who looked sad. Orozco would walk up to them, ask their name and how they were doing.

McNeil said she did the same thing in recent years if she was at a restaurant or in other public place. She would extend her arm and give kids a fist bump, and the child would light up.

He said her desire to help others led her into police work. She saw the potential in people and carried that attitude with her on the job, he said.

“Where other people may have saw despair, she saw hope,’’ he said. “She just had a heart for people.”

Orozco was mother to 3-month-old Olivia and stepmother to Natalia, 8, and Santiago, 6, children of her husband, Hector Orozco Lopez. They were married in a civil ceremony in 2011, then had a church wedding in 2012.

Orozco Lopez works for a local irrigation company. McNeil said Natalia and Santiago have lived part-time with their mother and part-time with their father and Kerrie Orozco.

Orozco, then Kerrie Holtz, graduated from Walnut High School in 2004, and was involved in a variety of activities, including volleyball, basketball and speech. Kock said she was always a leader.

“I never remember seeing her in a bad mood or upset. She was always smiling. She was always naturally a giving person,” Kock said.

Marie Livengood, who teaches kindergarten at Walnut Community Schools, said that while she never had Orozco in her class, she knew her and the family very well. Livengood described Orozco as an “awesome person” who always had a smile for everybody. If you needed something, Orozco would help without even being asked, Livengood said.

“I always had the utmost respect for her and what she did for those kids, keeping them from a gang mentality,” Livengood said.

Ploen and Orozco grew up in Walnut. They were in the same grade, a class of just 25 students. Orozco kept in touch with many of the girls she played sports with. A group of eight girls, including Orozco and Ploen, remained friends and referred to themselves as the Wolf Pack, the name of their alumni volleyball team.

On Wednesday, Ploen got a text from one of the Wolf Pack friends that said, “Is Kerrie really gone?”

Ploen, a first-grade teacher in the Millard Public Schools, said she didn’t want to believe that she wouldn’t see Orozco again. Even though Ploen knew the danger of Orozco’s job, it never crossed her mind that someone would try to kill her.

Ploen began thinking of the people who depended on Orozco, especially her baby, Olivia, who was born prematurely on Feb. 17. Orozco and her husband had planned to take the baby home from the hospital on Thursday.

Orozco had recently messaged the Wolf Pack to say her baby girl was tiny but a fighter, Ploen said. Orozco had been spending a lot of her time at the hospital, holding baby Olivia and posting pictures on social media of her growing each and every pound, Ploen said.

The family told Ploen the baby girl is 8 pounds and healthy now.

“It is so hard to accept that Kerrie is gone,” Ploen said. “I am so happy she got those moments with her daughter.”

World-Herald staff writer Michael O'Connor contributed to this report, which includes material from the World-Herald News Service.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1066, alissa.skelton@owh.com

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