LA JOYA — On Monday, residents here said their final goodbye to La Joya Police Chief Jose Del Angel who was found dead on May 12.
As news of Del Angel’s death spread, community members, city leaders, family and friends all joined to mourn the community’s top lawman and tried to determine if they missed any signs for help.
“If I would have known that he was going through some personal matters, then I would have taken away his gun and do my best to try to help him out,” said City Manager Mike Alaniz.
On May 13, not even 24 hours after Del Angel’s body was discovered in his La Joya Police Department Chevy Tahoe along South Kika De La Garza Drive, Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño said autopsy results showed Del Angel had died from a single self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chest. Friends said Del Angel, 44, was struggling with relationship problems, which they speculated might have led to his death.
“He was a tough guy, but deep inside I know he worried,” Alaniz said.
Over the weekend, Alaniz said he met with other friends and family to determine if they missed any signs of a distraught Del Angel. Mayor Billy Leo, in his last visit with the chief, said he now sensed something was wrong.
“I know he was nervous,” Leo said. “I know he was quiet. He wasn’t himself.”
But as the community was left shocked that one of its most well-respected city leaders had died, they all remembered Del Angel, who had been chief of police here for about four years, as a strict officer who strived to protect the city he served.
“I trusted his judgment,” Leo said. “He was not one to be sold. He had a lot of guts because he showed leadership and he did his job as a leader.”
Del Angel and his department are known for chasing drug smugglers and vans packed with illegal immigrants, often showing the media video of their pursuits.
The father of three daughters, a son and stepson, Del Angel grew up in Sullivan City, attending La Joya schools where he participated in sports. He started at the LJPD as a dispatcher in 1993.
“He always wanted to eventually become a police officer,” Alaniz said.
Over the years, he climbed the ranks in the department, becoming an officer in 1996, later a corporal, investigator and lieutenant before being named chief.
“He was always very straightforward and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind,” Alaniz recalled. “He did a very good job, especially as an investigator.”
With his help, the city was able to secure grants for the department to help the officers fight crime in La Joya.
“People out there, but especially criminals, were afraid of him,” Alaniz said.
Leo said the pressure Del Angel must have felt, as the chief of a city where drug dealers are known to pass through, was tough. Pressures within the city from political groups didn’t make his job easier, either.
“They’re scared to death,” Leo said of drug smugglers. “’He said, ‘I am trained to protect the citizens of La Joya,’ and that’s what he was doing. That pressure comes with the territory.”
In the wake of Del Angel’s death, Alaniz said the department, with the help of Del Angel’s staff, is prepared to carry out the chief’s legacy. Last week, city leaders named Lt. Julian Gutierrez in charge until the city can make formal arrangements to advertise for a new officer to take the job.
“That individual has some pretty big shoes to fill,” Alaniz said. “The next chief needs to be vigilant on crime here just as the department has done under the direction of the chief. We want the residents here to know that the city is safe.”
Del Angel’s legacy was built as a promise he made a Dallas-area judge when Del Angel was about 17 years old, Alaniz said recalling a story the chief had shared with him.
Facing a judge after a brief run-in with authorities, Del Angel pleaded with the judge to give him a chance.
“He told the judge, ‘If you allow me an opportunity to better myself, I’m going to make something of myself,’” Alaniz said.
Decades later as a police officer, Del Angel returned to visit the judge to thank him.
“The judge presented him to his court employees and used him as an example,” Alaniz said. “His point in that story was to say anybody is capable of committing to better themselves and succeeding in life. It doesn’t matter through trials and tribulations, there’s always an opportunity to get there. He did that and he was always dedicated to his job. He was always there.”
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