The annual National Night Out community outreach event the Los Banos Police Department holds with other emergency responders had a different feel this year.
It wasn't just the weather; it was too cold for the annual "Dunk-the-Chief" contest for kids. And flood lights were needed early as the sun set sooner.
It was even more important for the police department to hold a successful meet-and-greet with the community after the original event was cancelled following a fatal shooting in which two Los Banos officers were shot and injured, Chief Gary Brizzee said.
"The event on July 31 where our two officers were injured was a life-changing event I think for everyone in the police department," Brizzee said. "And the fact that we postponed what traditionally was a very productive event for us because of that incident, it was very unfortunate."
But Brizzee deemed Thursday's rescheduled event a success, with hundreds of residents showing up to support the Los Banos Police Department, fire department and other first responding agencies.
Allied agencies gave tours of their parked vehicles to residents at Pacheco Park Thursday evening and answered questions about their lines of work. Throughout the night, Brizzee and other members of the police department announced raffle prizes, and provided entertainment with occasional dance-offs between officers and sponsors.
For some in the crowd, it was a chance to continue a tradition of honoring and giving thanks to first responders.
"I came not only to support our local police and firefighters, but to give a chance for my son to show his own support," Los Banos resident Derrick Iudice said as his 8-year-old son Caleb flashed a firefighter's sticker badge on his Cub Scout uniform.
Food 4 Less provided hundreds of hot dogs, chips and buns for the residents while Target and other local businesses donated items for the raffle items such as kids bikes, gift cards and a big screen TV.
Organizations such as Merced County CASA, the Valley Crisis Center and VITAL police volunteers set up booths to showcase their services, while City Council representatives also lent their support.
The community event was supposed to take place on Aug. 1. But the day before it was scheduled, Officers Kristifer Hew and Aaron Pinon were shot in the line of duty while responding to a domestic disturbance, police said.
Hew and Pinon engaged in a struggle with 39-year-old Norberto Nieblas Reyes at about 6:18 a.m. July 31 at an apartment on Gilbert Gonzalez Jr. Drive in Los Banos after he started being argumentative and combative, police said.
Family members of Nieblas Reyes, who was estranged from his wife and kids living in the apartment, told authorities he broke into the home.
During the struggle, Nieblas Reyes managed to grab one of the officers' guns and shoot them both, law enforcement sources have said. Pinon was shot once in the upper torso and Hew was shot three times, once each in the torso, leg and head, above an eye.
Police said at least one of the officers returned fire, killing Nieblas Reyes, who court and jail records indicate had a history of drug use and fighting with law enforcement.
The Los Banos Police Department has finished an internal investigation of the shooting and has sent the results to the Merced County District Attorney's Office, Chief Deputy District Attorney Harold Nutt said, adding that the agency is waiting on the California Department of Justice's report before releasing findings.
"I'm very pleased and happy to say the officers are doing much better today than they were," Brizzee said, noting that Hew and Pinon were recovering from their injuries but still face more treatment and rehabilitation.