Hesperia Criminal Justice program loses one of its finest cadets
The Hesperia campus lost a cherished student in October when cadet Jessica Rae Padilla succumbed to cancer just a few short months after she started the Criminal Justice program.
“She always had a little half-smile; there was always a little light behind her,” says Eddy Leuridan, Criminal Justice Program Director. “She was a problem-solver, a leader who was always trying to keep her peers together.” And her classmates adored her.
“Jessica was an amazing human being,” says Criminal Justice classmate and close friend Monica Ortega. “Every cadet can honestly say that Jessica Rae Padilla was the sunshine of our academy class. She was the one to keep everyone on their toes and the one to make everyone smile.”
During the first weeks of her program, Jessica found herself struggling with the physical aspects of training. But she kept pushing herself to keep up with her class. “She wanted this so bad,” says Leuridan. “She wanted to be a cop.”
Throughout her struggles to get into better shape to meet the physical requirements of a cadet, she never lost sight of her goals. “She put herself through college, she really wanted this,” says Monica. “She had a hard time overcoming fitness matters, but she didn’t let that get to her.”
Her stamina didn’t improve. It worsened.
“She had these episodes where she couldn’t breathe, and cadets have to meet the demands of physical training,” says Leuridan. “Our school policy required me to ask her to bring a doctor’s release verifying her health. That is how she found out she had cancer.”
Jessica’s classmates were devastated. Jessica left school and began chemotherapy. “She wanted to beat it; at her young age, she wanted to live,” says Leuridan. “She cut her hair and put the hat on. She looked as beautiful as ever.”
On October 7, 2015, just a couple of months after leaving the Criminal Justice program, she was gone. “We lost this one and just have to trust the good Lord,” says Leuridan.
Jessica left a deep and loving mark on her classmates. “If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have gotten my degree; I would have given up,” says Monica, who recently graduated from the Criminal Justice program. “Everyone who met her, she would somehow touch that person in some way. She opened me up in a way that I never thought I could see myself.”
The Criminal Justice program’s classmates wanted to show Jessica’s family how they felt, how she had touched their lives. They conducted a candle-lighting ceremony on campus. About 60 of Jessica’s Criminal Justice classmates, instructors, and family members and friends gathered at the spot where Jessica had always parked her yellow VW bug to pay tribute.
Most of her fellow Criminal Justice cadets addressed Jessica’s family in speeches they had prepared. “They wanted her family to know that Jessica wasn’t just another student to us; she was our sister, our best friend,” says Monica.
A few days later, a few of those same classmates would, at the invitation of Jessica’s family, walk alongside Jessica’s casket at her funeral service.
Jessica Rae Padilla was one of those students, one of those people, who gave far more than she received in her short life. Her influence will be long felt and remembered.
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