Many people go about doing good deeds in their families, neighborhoods, organizations and church congregations. “Utah Valley’s Everyday Heroes” celebrates these unsung community members and bring to light their quiet contributions.
It was a typical Sunday afternoon. Officer Diego O. Garcia was patrolling an American Fork neighborhood when he got the call. A family had reported their mother as missing — and after years of struggling with depression and anxiety, they knew she was feeling suicidal.
Since he was only about a block from their home, Garcia responded to the call. He collected as much information as he could — her name and a description of the vehicle she was driving.
“When someone doesn’t want to be found, it’s really hard to find them,” Garcia said. “So I just took it at face value and told the family I’d keep an eye out and put an attempt-to-locate on the vehicle, and in a normal situation like that, that’s about as much as we can do.”
But something about this situation felt different.
“For some reason, I felt the need to actually go look for this woman, so I did,” Garcia said. “I dedicated my time to not doing anything else but to look for this woman.”
About an hour later, he was near the American Fork FrontRunner Station when he had the impression to search a few nearby hotels in Lehi. Normally officers won’t leave their jurisdiction, but Garcia said the feeling was just too strong to ignore.
“We went over to the two hotels and went around the first one and didn’t see her vehicle, and as I was turning the corner on the rear of the second motel, my phone rings and I look at the number and as I’m looking at this number I look up and I see her vehicle. And I’m like this is her husband, and that is her vehicle,” Garcia said. “So I just answered it and said ‘I found your wife’s vehicle.’”
Garcia waited for the woman’s husband and Lehi police to arrive before attempting to locate the woman. Hotel staff confirmed that she had checked into a room, but upon knocking, no one answered.
When the group was finally able to get into the room, the woman was found unconscious but breathing. Medical personnel rushed her to the hospital.
A few months later, by chance, Garcia was in the police station when a man entered the room. It was the woman’s husband, and the man and officer reconnected. During their encounter, Garcia learned that the woman was doing much better and was receiving the treatment she needed.
“I don’t know why I felt like I had to find her that day,” Garcia said. “We believe as police officers that we work for not only the city and the people we serve, but for a higher power, too. Maybe it just wasn’t her time to go and she needed to be found, and I just happened to be the one to find her. I just want it understood that it wasn’t all me. I think her Heavenly Father was watching out for her that day.”
Because of that experience, Garcia was nominated for and named Officer of the Year in the category of medium-size agencies at the recent Utah Chiefs of Police Association’s annual conference in St. George.
Garcia, who celebrated his fourth year at the American Fork City Police Department this week, said the recognition was humbling and unexpected.
“I accept the award, but I don’t know if I deserve it because I think anyone else would have done the same thing,” Garcia said. “I feel proud to be a part of it, to have found her and helped her get the help she needed, but there are other officers who have done a lot of good work. I understand now when someone says ‘It wasn’t a big deal; it’s just part of my job.’ That’s really what it was.”
Garcia never thought he’d be a police officer. As a child, he used to watch the TV show “Cops” and think the job was scary and something he could never do.
But as he grew older, and the desire to support and protect his family grew, he warmed up to the idea and eventually found it was the perfect career fit for him.
“I can’t imagine myself doing any other job,” he said. “I love the men and women I work with — they are really, really awesome. They’ve helped mold me into the officer that I am today. I feel like a very young officer, well I am a very young officer compared to some of the senior officers who are here, so I hope I can live up to it now.”