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Trading fireworks for tears: Community grieves officer's loss at Fourth of July memorial

Anthony Dia's family, friends, and complete strangers visit his memorial to say goodbye.

TOLEDO, Ohio — With the loss of an officer, thousands of hearts shattered in an instant.

“The worst was to find out how and why. It’s so senseless. It’s just so senseless on how he lost his life.... why he lost his life," said Oscar Rammuny, a long-time family friend of Anthony Dia's family. 

"It’s devastating,"  Rammuny said while standing near Dia's memorial and praying with his son — also named Anthony. 

Perhaps the cruelest realization is echoed over and over again from community members, fellow officers, and family alike.

"He was one of the good ones," one after another said. 

One woman comes to lay flowers and shares a story about how her son was in crisis, and Dia helped keep him out of jail. Another man speaks about how Officer Dia let his sons check out Dia's squad car. 

Officer Dia’s last words were, “Tell my family I love them.” Now Dia’s community is saying, “We love you.”

Balloons, flowers, and other tokens pay tribute across multiple spaces of the Home Depot parking lot. With each hour, the memorial grows. This is where Dia responded to his last call to serve and protect.

Some feel a responsibility to pay their respects. Deborah Payment visited the memorial to drop off some flowers and share a hug with an officer. Both ended the encounter in tears. 

“My sister was a police officer with Toledo. I have friends who are Toledo police officers and Toledo police officers have really been my..." Payment paused to let the emotion fade. "That child did not deserve to die like that.”

Others want to teach their children. One mother visited the memorial and came back with her husband and two sons in tow. 

“We’ve watched through June as the unrest began. We saw racial tensions. We want to learn. We want to understand. We have friends that are police officers, so this is very very moving to us. And we don’t want to see this happen to our friends," Sue Jennings said. 

Once Jennings' sons placed their momento at the memorial. the family walked over to the line of officers, wrapped their arms around them, and began to pray. 

You could feel the heartbreak, no matter who you are. It’s heard in stifled sobs. It's tasted in the tears falling onto lips that moved in silent prayer. It’s seen in the hugs of grieving brothers and sisters in blue. It’s felt in the grim reality that a father, brother, son, husband, and a human life is not coming back. 

“He’s just a great kid, a great young man. A great father, a great son, a great brother. Everyone who knew Anthony knew he was just smiles, he’s a great kid," Rammuny said. "Just so tragic."

Yet despite the tragedy, a community is holding itself together. Families, friends, those close to Dia, and those who have never met him are banding together as they try to make sense of 'why.' 

A man arrived with a speaker and a prayer circle formed in the late afternoon. One woman prayed for strength as a community struggles to understand. 

Shortly after, Officer Dia's wife and two sons stand in front of his memorial. Sobs pierce the air as two little boys realize their father is not coming home. Family members and strangers alike link arms, reach out hands, and steady themselves. 

"It makes you feel good that there are still people that even though they don't know him, they don't know what's going on, they didn't know him or his family," Rammuny said, "just to care, just to get out of their way today, especially on a holiday and to take the tie to come to buy flowers and put something down and not even know who he is, it really means a lot.

RELATED: Fallen Toledo officer remembered for his dedication to serving his community

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