Family remembers fallen Navajo police officer

Noel Lyn Smith
Marenda Yazziesmoothes a banner featuring her husband, the late Navajo police officer Alex Yazzie, Tuesday during a ceremony at La Familia Restaurant in Shiprock.

SHIPROCK – As Alexavier Yazzie stood in front of family members on Tuesday, he held in his hands the Marine Corps ribbons his father, fallen Navajo police officer Alex Kee Yazzie, earned during military service.

Yazzie, who was shot and killed on March 19 during a gun battle with a 26-year-old man near Red Valley, Ariz., enlisted in the Marines after graduating Crownpoint High School in 1992. He earned the rank of corporal before being honorably discharged.

On Tuesday, which would have been Yazzie’s 43rd birthday, family members gathered to watch the presentation of a Marine Corps Blue Dress uniform to his children at La Familia Restaurant in Shiprock.

The uniform was donated by Marine Corps veteran Sgt. Everett John. John said he donated the uniform because the one Yazzie owned could not be located, and it is the same uniform that was displayed during the March 27 funeral.

Yazzie’s wife, Marenda Yazzie, said the presentation to the children — Alexavier Yazzie, 10, and twins Alexis and Alexio Yazzie, both 3 — had been in the works since the funeral.

Yazzie’s eldest daughter — Tarriah Yazzie, 16 — lives with her mother in Crownpoint and did not attend the presentation.

As Army veteran Harrison Clark fastened uniform insignia to the uniform, John sorted the various insignia, ribbons and weapon qualification badges on a table.

“He’s never forgotten. He’s here with us,” Clark said.

When it was John’s turn to fasten the insignia, he explained the significance of each one to Alexavier.

Marine Sgt. Everette John stands next to Alexavier Yazzie Tuesday during the presentation of Yazzie's father's uniform at a ceremony La Familia Restaurant in Shiprock.

As work continued, Yazzie's children grew curious and gathered to watch.

“Daddy,” Alexio said while looking at the uniform.

As part of the presentation, the uniform, ribbons and badges were purified with cedar.

Marenda said in an interview before the event the family continues to heal day by day.

“I do have my days where I sit along and cry, but I try not to cry in front of the kids. I’m just doing what I can to honor him,” she said.

Marenda, who continues to work full time with the Navajo Nation Emergency Medical Service, said presenting the uniform to Alexavier was a gesture they have been wanting to do since the funeral.

“They still ask about their dad to this day. They ask where his police truck is, when he is coming home from work,” she said.

The family continues to receive support from the community, as well as from family members who help with responsibilities, such as driving the children to school.

“It’s something I needed Alex to do,” she said.

Yazzie’s youngest daughter, Alexis, wanted to give a balloon to her father, so Marenda purchased a heart-shaped balloon for her to release outside. That balloon was one of dozens that decorated tables, and some included the words, “Happy Birthday Dad.”

Taped to one of the walls was a large banner with Yazzie’s photos from the police department and the Marine Corps.

Rose Cowboy, one of Yazzie’s sisters, traveled from Albuquerque to attend the event.

“I’m sure he’s with us,” she said.

Cowboy remembers her little brother having a commanding voice and having love for his children.

“It’s so unreal,” she said. “I can’t believe he’s gone.”

Last year, Cowboy kept the children for a week in Albuquerque, and she did that again in July because she wanted to remain close to them.

“It’s nice to hear ‘Auntie Rose’,” she said after Alexio came up to ask a question.

Eric Trevizo, owner of La Familia, closed his business early to house the event.

Yazzie was a frequent customer, and his favorite meal was the carne asada-smothered burrito, Trevizo said.

“It’s a great to have Alex Yazzie’s family here in my restaurant today. …This is their place,” he said.

Trevizo recalled seeing Yazzie and Marenda dine together at the restaurant.

“They’d sit down and have lunch or dinner,” Trevizo said, adding Yazzie would kiss Marenda’s forehead then tell her to be safe.”

She would respond by telling Yazzie to be careful while on patrol, Trevizo said.

“It was beautiful to see,” he said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

Alexis and Alexio Yazzie blow out candles on a birthday cake for their late father, Navajo police officer Alex Yazzie, Tuesday at La Familia Restaurant in Shiprock.