Hardworking. Team player. Fun. Dedicated. Devoted. Father. Husband. Human.
This is how colleagues, friends and family members described Douglas County Deputy Zackari Parrish, who was killed in the line of duty Dec. 31.
“He had such an incredible zest for life,” Elizabeth police officer Sean Bigler said at a vigil the evening of Jan. 1 at Mission Hills Church in Littleton. “He will forever be one of my best friends.”
Parrish was responding to a domestic dispute at a residence in the Copper Canyon Apartments, 3380 E. County Line Road, in Highlands Ranch, the morning of Dec. 31 when he was shot and killed. Authorities have identified the suspected gunman as Matthew Riehl, 37. Four other law enforcement officers were wounded in what Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock called "an ambush-type of attack." Two civilians sustained non-life-threatening injuries during the incident.
Parrish, 29, was raised in Houston, Texas, and graduated from Dallas Baptist University, a local news outlet reported. He had been with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office for seven months and had previously served more than two years with the Castle Rock Police Department. He lived in Highlands Ranch with his wife, Gracie, and their two young daughters.
Thousands of people attended the Jan. 1 vigil to grieve, honor and remember Parrish. About a dozen men wearing black Douglas County Sheriff's Office uniforms stood in a line on one side of the room. Men and women from several other law enforcement agencies, also in uniform, were in the crowd. Tears were shed throughout the church, 620 Southpark Drive, as stories of Parrish were recounted.
Those who worked alongside him said he cared deeply about his profession and serving the community. On the job, Parrish often spoke of his wife and daughters. He was a mentor to many and he made others strive to be better.
“He put 10 hours into a 10-hour shift no matter what,” said Castle Rock police officer Matt Fellows, who went to the police academy with Parrish. “He never gave up and I'm going to miss him terribly.”
Lauren Barenberg, sister of Gracie Parrish, emphasized the deep love Parrish had for those around him. He was generous and kind, she said.
“He let his light shine bright in the darkest of times,” Barenberg said.
When George LeKander joined the Castle Rock Police Department, Parrish was “extremely welcoming” to him. Parrish helped him through personal problems and would often tell him, “Things will be good, brother,” LeKander said through tears at the vigil.
“He had a desire to continuously learn more in his profession,” LeKander said. “He touched a lot of people in a short amount of time.”
Parrish was a friend to Mike Pritchard. The two met through the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce three or four years ago, Pritchard wrote on a Facebook page. He gave Parrish career advice when Parrish was “transitioning from banking to law enforcement.”
“The things I'll remember most about Zack were his strong faith, love of his family, his pure optimism and great sense of humor,” Pritchard wrote. “He was just someone that you wanted to spend time with.”
In the aftermath of tragedy, several county residents have used social media to organize events, brainstorm ways to help and show support. Some white porch lights have been replaced by blue and blue ribbons are showing up throughout neighborhoods.
A sheriff's office car parked out front of the substation in Highlands Ranch, 9250 Zotos Drive, is now a memorial, covered in flowers, balloons and messages. A GoFundMe page created by family friend Tyler Scott for the Parrish family, www.gofundme.com/ZParrish, raised $225,124 as of Jan. 2.
The funeral for Parrish is scheduled for 11 a.m., Jan. 5, at the Cherry Hills Community Church (3900 Grace Blvd in Highlands Ranch).
Scott met Parrish and his family through their church, Mission Hills. On the GoFundMe page, Scott describes Parrish as a “true God fearing man” who fed off adrenaline and dreamed of becoming a police officer.
“Working the grave yard shift and being a father of two young girls, Zack always had energy during the day to play and take his girls to the park,” Scott wrote on the page. “Zack was always there for his friends. Giving scriptural advice to friends in need of advice, or offering up his free time to help his buddies with home projects. Zack was selfless and a true friend to anyone that knew him.”
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