Lesley Zerebny, 27-years-old, was a rookie police officer and a new mom when she was fatally shot in the line of duty on a domestic dispute call in Palm Springs, California. Also killed was her mentor, 63-year-old Jose Vega, who had been an officer for 35 years. He had planned to retire in December.
Lesley was described as small in stature, but large in spirit, courage, and laughter. The new mother had cut her maternity leave short to return to the police department because they were low on manpower. She had only been an officer for a year and a half when she was killed on October 8 in what deputies called a “planned attack”, according to the LA Times. Her daughter, Cora, was just four months old and Zerebny had been breastfeeding her.
She had been the daughter of a California Highway Patrol Officer, a girl whom family recalled as someone who would run through the wooded area around her house barefoot, unafraid to catch a rattlesnake. Colleagues described her as “fearless” but an unbelievably loving mother, singing to the baby girl who shared her eyes, loving every aspect of the days she spent with her baby. She had also married a fellow police officer, Zach Zerebny, who is now left to raise Cora without Lesley.
A grieving community was angered and saddened at the senseless deaths and the orphaned children. Vega also leaves behind multiple children, including an eight-year-old daughter, and there was little that they could do with the rage towards the shooter who apparently planned to kill them, a 26-year-old gang member who had already served 18 months in prison and was wearing body armor when they responded to his home for the domestic disturbance. They were gunned down immediately.
While the justice system takes time, women in the area soon realized an immediate way they could help Zerebny’s daughter, Cora, and honor her mother simultaneously. Those who were lactating for their own children could donate their breastmilk so that the little girl who had lost her mother wouldn’t have to adjust to a new form of nutrition immediately. According to LifeDaily, more than 500 ounces of breastmilk were donated by multiple women, enough to likely see Cora through the next month and help her adjust to life without her mother.
Claudine Wong of KTVU posted about the donation on Facebook.
“This effort started on social media when a family member posted asking for prayers. That family member happened to be in the Monterey area and when a local woman named Ashley asked if donated breast milk could help, she said yes and then this incredible effort got underway.
It didn’t take long but tonight more than 500 ounces of breast milk from moms the Monterey area were delivered to that family member to take back to Cora.
It was gathered in just 24 hours and they estimate that the milk could last for more than a month. It will be screened and tested before it can be used.
As far as more donations I should say the Palms Springs Police Officers Association says that if people want to donate to formula they can send Enfamil reguline formula to the department.
But this is not about breast milk or formula, it’s about the human heart and about the desire and the capacity of people to give.
Two officers lost their lives on Saturday…responding to a call.
Officer Zerebny and Veteran officer Jose Vega.
Today in Monterey moms also responded to a call for help.”
One mother began the donation by giving the extra milk she had and others in the area soon followed. The outpouring was so immense that Cora’s needs were met in just a week’s time. The Palm Springs Police Department released the following statement on October 15.
“Breast milk donations
On behalf of the Zerebny family, we would like to thank all those who have generously donated breast milk. At this time, the family has received more than adequate amounts for baby Cora and are no longer requesting donations of breast milk.
If you have milk that you wish to donate, you may consider donating to a local milk bank or hospital in Officer Lesley Zerebny’s name to help feed other babies who may be in need.
Thank you again for your generosity and continued support during this difficult time.”
[Featured Image by Claudine Wong/KTVU Facebook Image]