Deputy April Rodriguez
Shared from Tampa Bay Times:
NEW PORT RICHEY — April Rodriguez had this look, recalls her friend Autumn Bennett, that said it all:
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
Rodriguez was tough, her friend said, and she was strong. The mother of three pushed through high-intensity CrossFit regimens, ran 5Ks and, as her Pasco County Sheriff’s Office supervisors noted, could project authority when she needed to.
But as a patrol deputy, what defined Rodriguez’s work was her concern for the most vulnerable.
“I try to interact with children as much as I can and often see their faces light up when a deputy acknowledges them,” she wrote in a 2016 self-evaluation. “The children’s parents really seem to appreciate it.”
Rodriguez, 43, died by suicide February 24, 2019.
Among her mourners are those she interacted with as a deputy. Posts on social media included several from commenters describing the brief but meaningful moments they shared with her.
What has the community lost in Rodriguez? “An absolutely beautiful soul,” said Bennett.
She was born April Michelle Russell on Feb. 21, 1976, in Mississippi to mother Carla Collins and father A.J. Russell.
April moved to Florida in 1991, according to records, and attended Brandon High School. That’s where she met Luis Rodriguez.
They were high-school sweethearts, said Luis Rodriguez, now 43. They broke up and she moved to Tennessee. Eventually they reconnected and were married in 2002. She returned to the Tampa Bay area. Then they separated about three years ago.
After 13 years selling real estate, April Rodriguez applied to become a Pasco sheriff’s deputy in September 2014.
“She wanted more excitement,” her husband said. “She got bored.”
She sought something more meaningful from a career, a role in which she could help people. By making others happy, Bennett said, she could find some joy of her own: “She was trying to find her happiness.”
By January 2015, April Rodriguez was a sworn deputy solving cases.
In her 2017 self-evaluation, she recounted the confession she obtained from a man suspected of burglarizing a string of vehicles in Ivy Lakes Estates. He took her to the site of each hit, she wrote, and then gave her the items he’d stolen.
Supervisors praised her communication skills and the way she dealt with the public.
“Her peers and the citizens she encounters during shift appear to appreciate and respect her,” wrote Pasco Sgt. Jeannine Miller in a 2017 evaluation. “Even the arrestees appear to like her.”
Miller highlighted Rodriguez’ courage, too.
“She has demonstrated her willingness to jump in or take appropriate action when force is required with no fear,” the sergeant wrote. “She is brave.”
One performance review praised Rodriguez’s resolve in trying to calm a man holding a razor to his throat.
Early in her career, Rodriguez thought about becoming a detective working economic or property crimes. But her husband said that as time passed she grew more interested in the people-side of police work.
He said she wanted to become a training officer, a goal she mentioned in her self-evaluations. In a July 2018 report, a sergeant wrote that she had missed the minimum score to qualify by less than a point.
Other supervisors said her past life experience helped her on the job. They supported her career goals, like obtaining her bachelor’s degree. “Be aggressive and control your destiny!” wrote a captain.
Rodriguez wrote in her self-evaluations that her philosophy as a deputy was to renew “the public’s trust and perception of law enforcement.”
“I have had many people on calls say, ‘I am so glad you are the deputy that was sent here today,’” she wrote in 2016.
She was particularly interested in serving children.
In one evaluation, she wrote that she wanted to start patrolling more often for drivers who did not stop for kids boarding school buses. She befriended kids at Walmart or gas stations or wherever she went, her husband said, and always kept trinkets in her patrol cruiser to give to them.
Off-duty, Rodriguez enjoyed exercise and the outdoors. She mountain-biked. She ran to burn away stress. Her husband said “she always wanted to go heavier and heavier and heavier” at the gym.
Bennett met Rodriguez through CrossFit. The friend recalled something the deputy would always say during their grueling workouts: “Suck it up, buttercup.”
Rodriguez may have treated her mental health the same way. Bennett said her friend never showed signs that she was struggling with something. Luis Rodriguez said the same. Perhaps, Bennett wonders, April Rodriguez kept to herself to keep the people she cared about from worrying about her.
“Nobody knows except her and the man upstairs,” Bennett said.
Rodriguez’s fellow deputies entered her New Port Richey apartment on Sunday after she didn’t report to work, the Sheriff’s Office said. They found her in the bedroom. She had killed herself with her service weapon.
Rodriguez leaves behind three children: Emily, 23; Alex, 15; and Madison, 13. The younger two live with Luis Rodriguez in Land O’ Lakes, he said, while the eldest lives in North Dakota and is serving in the Air Force. Luis Rodriguez said she took an active role in their lives, such as supporting Alex’s passion for guitar.
“This really can’t be happening,” he recalls thinking when he heard of her death.
The kids are “hanging in there,” he said. “They’re surrounded by a ton of family.”
The funeral was set for Friday morning. Bennett said Rodriguez’s family would find out what she meant to other people. If only her friend could see it herself:
“She’s going to realize how loved she was.”