By Moises D. Mendoza
The San Antonio Express-News Staff Writer
A day after the phone call, Officer Ray Gallegos still feels the thumping pain in his chest.
Mario Moreno, Gallegos' close friend and colleague, had been shot while on duty, said the voice on the other end.
"My heart started beating 100 miles per hour," Gallegos remembers. "The first thing I thought was 'I hope he's alright.'"
Then came the second call. Moreno was dead.
Moreno was slain outside The Villas at St. Moritz on the Northwest Side on Friday afternoon, becoming the first San Antonio police officer killed by gunfire since 2001.
Those who loved him have struggled to push aside the pain as they've tried to remember Moreno as he was:
An 11-year SAPD veteran treated everyone fairly — even bad guys.
A jokester with a wicked sense of humor.
A devoted family man with a wife and two young children.
"I'm going to miss his friendship a whole lot," Gallegos says. "I've shed a lot of tears already."
When Moreno, 37, graduated from the police academy about a decade ago, he joined the department's Central Substation, which primarily covers downtown, colleagues say.
Moreno, a San Antonio native, quickly stood out as one of the station's best officers, a smart and hard-working cop who constantly busted bad guys.
Sometimes, Moreno even would drive around his patrol area while off-duty, checking on residents and businesses to make sure everything was OK, Gallegos says.
In about 2000, Moreno was selected to work on a special unit called directed patrol, one specifically set up to stop criminals before they struck.
It was perfect for Moreno because it let him be more proactive — something he loved, says Officer DeDe Brown who worked with him.
"With him it was always, 'How many drugs can we find today, how many people can we help?'" Brown remembers. "We made known to everyone that we were here to protect them."
But Moreno's dream was to be a detective, Brown says.
He especially coveted a spot on the department's elite Repeat Offender Program, a special squad that targets repeat criminals and often goes undercover.
No one at the Central Substation, where Moreno had worked with several partners over the years, was surprised to learn he would be promoted this June.
Finally, Moreno had achieved his dream job. He was going to be a Repeat Offender Program detective.
Moreno grew a goatee to fit in with his undercover colleagues and told fellow officers about his excitement, Brown remembers.
He was on an ROP sting when he died.
There's much beyond Moreno's work life that everyone remembers.
His family: He had a wife from the Czech Republic named Alena, 8-year-old son Nicholas and 4-year-old Elizabeth. He was known for fawning over them and treating them to vacations to Disneyland, Mexico, Europe and elsewhere.
His passion for friends: Moreno often invited them to barbecues at his home in Schertz.
He was much beloved at the Central Substation, Brown remembers.
"Nobody ever had anything bad to say about Mario," Brown says.
He also organized morale-building excursions with colleagues, such as trips to the bowling alley.
His jokes were side-splitting, says Officer Carl Bratton, who became close with Moreno about three years ago.
"Man, that guy had a sense of humor," Bratton says.
His love for the community: Officers say Moreno was honest and fair to everyone, including colleagues, crime victims and even suspects.
"He would treat people the way he wanted to be treated," Gallegos says. "He was persistent and proactive, but he was fair."
Moreno's family, which declined interviews, has taken his death particularly hard and needs time to grieve, says close family friend Betty Corona.
"Alena always knew it could happen but never thought it actually would," Corona says.
Brown was so shocked that it was Moreno who died, that she went to University Hospital to see him for herself.
There, friends and family held each other and officers openly wept.
"It was him," Brown says.
And while Bratton forced himself to stay home taking care of his children, he tossed and turned all night, finally waking up at 2 a.m.
Four hours later, he checked in for his 6 a.m. shift.
"At roll call, officers normally joke and laugh about things, like high school football or whatever," Bratton says. "But today nobody was speaking. Our friend died."
Gallegos' heart is still pounding.
"Nothing will ever be the same," he says.
Police chaplain Jimmy Drennan administered last rites to Moreno. The family told him the detective was a devout Catholic, he says.
They must now find peace, knowing that Moreno is together with the 10 other San Antonio police officers who have died on-duty since 1990, Drennan says.
But that doesn't dull the pain.
"I didn't know him personally but every officer feels this," Drennan says. "It doesn't matter if we know each other for a minute or for a great length of time. We are all family."
A visitation is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Porter Loring Funeral Home downtown. Funeral services will take place Thursday. Details are pending.
News Researcher Michael Knoop contributed to this report.
Copyright 2007 San Antonio Express News