HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez described Deputy Darren Almendarez as fighter and warrior who committed his life to public service.
Deputy Darren Almendarez, 51, died Thursday night after he was shot during an exchange of gunfire when he confronted three men investigators say were trying to steal the catalytic converter from his truck outside of grocery store near the intersection of FM 1960 and Aldine Westfield Road.
Deputy Almendarez was 23-year law enforcement veteran, who most recently served in the auto theft division.
According to Sheriff Gonzalez, Deputy Almendarez was homeless early in his life and worked in fast food. He was trying to make ends meet at a young age before he committed his life to public service.
The sheriff said he knew the deputy both personally and professionally and described him as being “very mild spoken” and a “very great individual.”
“He's just a great guy. He's had a stellar career for 23 years,” the sheriff said. “Started as a detention officer, went to patrol, current assignment is in the auto theft division.”
The sheriff asked for prayers from the community and said his office has been very blessed to have the community support they have.
Prior to the shooting, Deputy Almendarez was shopping in the grocery store with his wife to prepare for his sister's birthday celebration which was planned for Friday, according to the sheriff.
The sheriff said the deputy’s wife is distraught and asked the community to keep her in their prayers, as well.
Deputy Almendarez was a graduate of Austin High School.
Earlier this year, Deputy Almendarez was featured in a video posted by the sheriff's office on social media. He was advising the public on avoiding buying a stolen vehicle during a ride along. The Houston Police Officers' Union shared the video early Friday morning following his death.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she was "Absolutely heartbroken."
Mayor Sylvester Turner issued the following statement Friday morning.
“I am deeply saddened by the death of Deputy Darren Almendarez. We mourn with our brothers and sisters at Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and we extend our support to them as they grieve the loss of the 23-year veteran. Law enforcement is an inherently dangerous job, but what happened is unacceptable. It is a terrible day when a family trip to a grocery store ends in violence and loss of life. Deputy Almendarez will be remembered as a loyal public servant who died while protecting his wife. I ask everyone to join me in praying for the deputy’s family, his coworkers, and for the senseless violence to end.”
The Houston office of the FBI also offered their condolences: "Our hearts ache for you and with you."