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First responder guided by faith

SB • 12-2 | Responding in Faith
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Deacon Mark Martinez, a San Bernardino County deputy, relied on his faith to get himself and others through the Dec. 2 attack on the Inland Regional Center

By Natalie Romano

SAN BERNARDINO—On December 2nd, San Bernardino County Sergeant Mark Martinez had men in custody, suspects wanted in a carjacking from the previous night. Then came an urgent call, all units needed, an active shooter in San Bernardino. The alleged carjackers would have to wait. 

 

 Martinez, who is also a newly ordained deacon, geared up then looked up… to God.

 “I’d never heard a call like that,” Martinez explained. “I got right into prayer.”

 The prayers continued as Martinez made what felt like the “longest drive” from Fontana to San Bernardino. He arrived to the Inland Regional Center to find an endless parade of emergency vehicles and frightened survivors.

 “I could see the anguish in their faces,” he recalled.

 Martinez never entered the building where two shooters killed 14 people and injured 22. Instead, his job that day was to move people to safety and be on guard for the unexpected. But it didn’t feel like enough.

 “I wanted to do more,” he says. “Even police officers can feel helpless.”

 In that moment, he remembered something a priest told him.

 “He said as a sergeant, I get to take Church to where it’s happening and I reflected on that. He was right. So I prayed for the victims, for the officers, for all of us.”

 After four tense hours, Martinez finally went home. 

 “I talked to my family and they listened to me. They didn’t ask a lot, just listened. It was traumatic for all of us.”

 In the days that followed, Martinez reached out to his fellow officers to see how they were coping. For his own healing, Martinez said he spoke to his spiritual advisor and attended the Candlelight Vigil at San Manuel Baseball Stadium, which he called “a very moving experience.” 

 Martinez thought it was important that Catholic, Protestant and Islamic leaders shared the stage that night. Despite the anger some may feel, Martinez says we can’t mistake fanaticism for faith.

 “We need to love all God’s people. It’s the extremists not the religion.”

 Deacon Martinez recently gave his first homily to his Colton parish, Immaculate Conception. He referenced the shooting but only briefly. “People have anxieties, fears. I want to reassure them during this Advent season. Even though these are tough times, God is with us.” 

 Martinez has served with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for 24 years. He is the 2013 recipient of the Chief Patrick G. Crowe Award, awarded by the Diocese at its annual Blue Mass. He was honored with the award for being an outstanding mentor and a model of faith-filled police work.


Natalie Romano is a freelance writer and a parishioner of The Holy Name of Jesus in Redlands.