CHICAGO - Officer Ben Perez paid the ultimate sacrifice, dying in the line of duty as a Chicago police officer back in 2002.
His son, Benjamin, was less than two years old at the time. However, last week, fellow officers stood in for the father of three, as Benjamin graduated from high school.
There were sirens, mounted patrol and more than a dozen officers on hand at the Saint Ignatius High School graduation last week.
Wife Shelly says she'll never forget that knock at the door after Officer Perez was killed by a commuter train while conducting a stakeout in 2002.
“He had to tell me point blank: Ben did not survive,” she said. “That was probably one of the worst moments of my life."
The mother of three young children had to rely on memories of her late husband to get her through dark days and tough times.
While there is no replacing a parent, fellow police officers and specifically, the Memorial Foundation, have made life a little easier for the Perez family.
“I was out there the night that Ben was killed by the train, and it always left an impact on me,” said Phillip Cline, Executive Director, Chicago Police Memorial Foundation. “The fact that we're able to help his family is really gratifying.”
Former Police Superintendent Phil Cline runs the foundation, with a mission to honor fallen heroes like Perez by taking care of education for the kids of fallen and catastrophically injured officers.
“It’s destiny-changing for the children,” said Shelly. “They've been given the best education.”
That need for help isn't going away, with four officers killed just last year, adding eight children to that list.
“With the assistance from the Memorial Foundation, I could pursue anything I want, so there's never been any pressure to be something I’m not,” said Benjamin.
And for Benjamin, that means heading to Miami to study biology, leaving behind a school and community he loves.
“I can always come back to a family that knows what I’m going through and I know what they're going through,” said Benjamin.
It's a family that supports and remembers.
“It's good to know that just because my Dad's gone, everyone still remembers him and my family and thinks of us still, even all these years later,” said Benjamin.