ORLANDO — Royal Palm Beach Fire-Rescue Lt. Ray Vazquez was a paramedic who held the hand of a patient, who reached down to pick up a child, explaining what happened to his or her parent. In the chaos that comes with trauma, he kept his cool.
“If you got hurt in Palm Beach County, you’d want Ray to take care of you,” said Battalion Chief Nigel Baker of Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue.
Vazquez, 42, was killed Monday when a gunman opened fire on lunch customers in a Wendy’s restaurant west of West Palm Beach. He was shot in the back after he returned to the restaurant to exchange a toy for his son. After wounding four other customers, the shooter took his own life.
As the crime scene unfolded, Vazquez’s wife, Michele, knelt at the side of the road and wept beside their 4-year-old son.
Throughout the day Tuesday, strangers visited Station 28. They brought money for the Vazquez family Michele Vazquez and five children and left flowers in front of the flags that hung at half-staff.
“I feel so bad for the family,” said Anna Williamson, a mother of five who drove from Boynton Beach to donate $50. “How many times have my kids gotten the wrong toy and I’ve gone back and exchanged it? That really hits home.”
Vazquez’s wife of seven years released a statement: “I don’t understand why these horrible things happen. But, no horrible thing can take away our memories. My husband was an outstanding father and the most giving husband. He was my best friend; I’m going to miss him so much.”
Michele Vazquez, 38, is a night-shift patrol corporal with the Palm Springs police. The two met while working for American Medical Response ambulance service in the 1990s. He was a paramedic and she an EMT. They were partners and fell in love, Palm Springs police Lt. Mark Hall said.
In 1999, Michele Vazquez went to work at Palm Springs. In 2001, Ray Vazquez joined Lake Park Fire-Rescue, which later was taken over by the county.
Michele Vazquez visited her husband every shift along with their son, who loved to see the firetrucks. On Monday they were at the Wendy’s near where he was in training classes.She spent the day after her husband’s death in their home, surrounded by family, friends and colleagues. People told stories of how Ray Vazquez played paintball with their children and never got mad when he was hit. How he was proud to be promoted to lieutenant last year. How he doted on his wife and children.