Grieving community pays tribute to Ardrey Kell HS resource officer who died from COVID-19

CHARLOTTE — The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, as well as a local high school community, gathered Monday to celebrate the life of a veteran officer who died from COVID-19.

CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings tweeted on Oct. 5 that Officer Julio Herrera had died. Herrera, who had been with the department for 28 years, was the school resource officer at Ardrey Kell High School.

“It’s with a heavy heart that I share with our CLT family of Ofc. Julio Herrera’s passing,” the chief wrote. “He has spent the last 28 years serving the CLT community.”

A funeral service for Herrera was held at 10 a.m. on Oct. 11 at First Baptist Church.

Prior to the funeral service around 8:30 a.m., Chopper 9 Skyzoom flew over a processional for Herrera. The line of cars passed by Ardrey Kell High School where dozens of students and staff stood outside to honor Herrera’s 15 years of service to the school as an SRO.

Student Jordyn Rose described to Channel 9 the moment she learned Herrera passed.

“The principal went on the announcements and broke down and it was just abrupt. Everyone was broken about the whole situation,” she said.

Like so many, Jordyn stood outside with her cheer squad paying silent respect to the man many knew and loved.

Many families told Channel 9 Herrera was more like a father figure than an officer, making this loss even more significant.

Parent Patti McKinney watched the processional with her son.

“We want to make sure that he has that good understanding of honoring the heroes that work really hard for us day in and day out,” she said.

With their hands over their hearts, teachers, parents, community members and first responders were visibly emotional as CMPD officers started their route before the funeral.

Herrera’s lasting impact is apparent, especially on those who worked with him closely, including Charlotte Fire Battalion Chief Charles Horne.

“We’ve had several calls over the years and opportunities to interact with him and he had a significant and positive impact on all the students,” Horne. “He was a pleasure to work with and he will just be truly missed.”

Many of the students made signs thanking Herrera for his decades of service.

McKinney said Herrera won’t be forgotten.

“It’s a great loss for CMPD as well as AK, where he was very, very loved,” McKinney said.

Jennings said Herrera leaves behind a wife and two children.

“He’ll also be missed by the many students he mentored at Ardrey Kell High School,” Jennings posted.

Herrera was set to retire in February.

During a County Commission meeting on Oct. 5, Commissioner George Dunlap said Herrera died from COVID-19.

“I woke up this morning to an email about a Charlotte police officer who has been a Charlotte police officer for 28 years,” Dunlap said. “In fact, he was set to retire this coming February, and we learned this morning that he passed away because of COVID. Four months shy of his retirement. So, I wanted to say to the community that COVID is real. And for all of the naysayers who say that one life lost is insignificant, go talk to his family members.”

A sign posted in front of Ardrey Kell High School read sweet messages, like “Rest in Peace Officer Herrera.”

“I couldn’t hold my tears,” student Dan Oveve said. “It was a bad moment.”

He said he and several other students cried after hearing of Herrera’s death. Oveve, a transfer student from Russia, said he felt a little out of place when he first arrived on campus, but that Herrera helped him feel at home.

“On the first day of school, he gave me a high five. He was really happy, and I was proud to be in the school because of him.”

Several students said they knew Herrera was in the hospital, but they figured the man who mentors so many of them would return.

“Pretty sad. It’s unfortunate,” student Evan Campos said. “His kindness -- his presence. I saw him every day.”

The mother of another student said Herrera treated the kids as if they were his own.

“A father figure,” parent Nasheika Moore said. “He called them his students. Just heartbreak and devastation.”

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