Life without Lesley, honoring the memory of one of Palm Springs' finest

Widower says tragedy doesn't change call of duty

Widower of Officer Lesley Zerebny speaks

OAK GLEN, Calif. - Lesley Zerebny had just a short three months with her daughter Cora, who is now almost one.

"The most important thing to Lesley was this little girl," shares Zack Zerebny.  "(Lesley) was the biggest fire cracker in the world.  Feisty, a handful.  And then when she became pregnant she, she didn't lose her personality, she just had this change where she had this motherly aspect to her and it was really, really beautiful...I think the hardest part of all this for me is what she's missing." 

Zack Zerebny, a Riverside County Sheriff's Deputy, was working in the jail in Temecula on October 8, 2016.

"Basically got a call that there is something really bad going on in Palm Springs, two officers are down."

Zack's 27 year old wife had just returned from maternity leave and was on patrol in Palm Springs at the time.

"So I immediately got to where I could use my phone, and made some phone calls, tried calling her, obviously no response," he details.

Prosecutors say a man who had already served prison time for assault was wearing a bullet proof vest when he fired armor piercing rounds from a semi-automatic rifle at the group of officers who responded to help his mother.

"It was probably a good 20 minutes until I knew she was involved, and then I didn't know what happened to her," says Zack.  "I didn't know she was dead until I was probably an hour and a half-- two hours later.  Until I was there. At the hospital.  So it was a rough.. it's crazy."

Lesley's training offier, Gil Vega, 63, was also killed. 

"(Lesley) always talked so highly of Gil, so highly," says Zack.  "She loved him to death."

A third officer survived.

Thousands attend memorial service for Gil Vega and Lesley Zerebny

The man's attorney now says his client is mentally incompetent.

Zack says he has not heard from the shooter's family.

"He took two people and their families and to plead for forgiveness or an easy sentence on him, is twisted. ..This war against police, it's just out of control.  When you have to be careful who you talk to, or who knows where you live or all of that."

Now he and Cora proudly wear their law enforcement black and blue, including shirts with Lesley's picture that read "Be a fearless warrior."

"I got into this career to want to help people. If there's going to be bad people who want to cause harm to the innocent, I want to be the one to deal with it.  So as hard as it is with this little one (Cora), I want to protect her as well."

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Zack says he will return to work eventually, as a Riverside County Sheriff's deputy.  And he believes Lesley would return to work as well if the situation were reversed.

"It was something she really felt called to get into. Something she felt passionate about. She was really good at what she did. She just excelled."

"There's a silent majority in this community that supports law-enforcement. They're there and we know they are there but they're not heard very often," says Zack.  "So something that is as simple as thank you, or a hug, or anything like that, it's helpful."

It is also a nod to the way his wife lived.  Something he wants to share with their daughter.

"I dread and I look forward to those conversations with Cora. It's those are going to be hard conversations to explain and try to articulate to her, but I want her to know her mom in every case she can't, so she'll definitely here. We'll have these conversations."



PART ONE of #HonoringHerMemory

Zerebny.  When many people first heard the name back in October, it was difficult to pronounce.  But eight months later, those who have followed the tragic assassination of two Palm Springs police officers can say the name Zerebny all too well.

Zack Zerebny walks among apple trees at Riley's Farm on a recent weekday.  His daughter Cora on his hip, hanging on to the wedding band he wears around his neck.   The last time he was there, was with Cora, who was just a few weeks old, and his wife, Lesley.

"We came up here to the Hawk's Head (Tavern) and just loved it like we always do," he reflects.

"Lesley was always on her phone capturing those memories.  So it's a blessing, having memories," says Zack.

Coming back to Oak Glen, Zack says, is hard. "It's heavy.  It's another first.  Just like anything else."

Zack Zerebny is living a life of firsts now.  But it is a life without Lesley.

Weeks after their last trip to Oak Glen as a family, Lesley, 27, and her veteran training officer Gil Vega, were gunned down while answering a domestic disturbance call in Palm Springs.

"I remember me and Lesley sitting, watching the Dallas (shooting)," says Zack.  "It was just a couple of months before Lesley was killed, and we were both angry." 

"We always discussed (the possibility of a shooting).  You see those stories and hear about other fallen officers and it's terrible, it's horrible, but you never think it's really going to happen," he says.

As for as how he's doing now?

"Since police week, since DC. I would say, I'm very numb."

Being at Police week, Zack says was overwhelming.  "It was a great experience and such a very terrible tragedy.  Sacramento was very personal.  Very quiet.  Then you go to DC and you see a whole hotel full of survivors. It was a 29 story building, and it was filled with only the survivors so it was heavy to see a hotel that was completely filled to the brim with people who are grieving in just the same way."

For the last several months, the Zerebnys have traveled with their family, blood and law enforcement, to honor Lesley's memory, taking Cora to place a rose in a wreath, putting their hands on memorials from Sacramento, to D.C. to Riverside.

"It's good and bad getting through all of these memorials," says Zack.  It's so heavy to go to them and we want to honor that, it's exhausting," he sighs.  "It's tiring."

"You don't want to see your wife's name engraved on a's kind of nice to be past that right now."

Zack says he is adjusting to a new normal.  The Riverside County Sheriff's deputy is now a full-time father, getting ready for his daughter's first birthday.

"Lesley actually had it all designed out on one of her social media apps," Zack offers, "and we'll do that."

"(Cora) most definitely got her mom's personality. This fire, passionate, let you know if you're doing something wrong. And it's beautiful, I wouldn't want it any other way, but it's more memories...I think the hardest part of all this for me is what she's missing...that's the tough stuff," says Zack.  Not only is Lesley missing Cora grow up, but Cora, "is missing her mom."

A memorial in Lesley's hometown of Hemet

The Cora Rayne clothing collection, named after Lesley's daughter Cora, donating 50 percent of their profits to the families of fallen officers.

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