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Run remembers fallen Officer Zapata

(NEWSCHANNEL 3) - West Michigan was out in full force Saturday morning to honor a fallen Kalamazoo police officer.

The Eric Zapata Memorial Run drew hundreds of runners and walkers. The Kalamazoo Public Safety officer was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2011.

Newschannel 3 was there for the big event at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

Over the past three years, Eric Zapata's mother, Connie Bernal, says she's seen the 5K run and walk in his honor get bigger and bigger. "That shows to me that they carry out his legacy and have not forgotten him. It's awesome," she says.

Local law enforcement was a big part of the tribute, with the Kalamazoo Public Safety Honor Guard starting the race.

More than 700 people showed up to participate. The proceeds go to the Eric Zapata Memorial Foundation, providing scholarships for students in the area to pursue law enforcement careers and training for those already on the job.

"Eric would be looking down and seeing all these people out here doing these things for him," Bernal says. "And he would say, these are my angels -- these are angels doing good deeds, good work."

Bernal says her family is very grateful for all the support. This was the first year Zapata's daughter walked in the event. Plus, his 85-year-old uncle, Pabl Casarez, walked the entire 3.1 miles. He says it was to "honor the race, family and the whole thing."

Many runners came out to show support for the brave men and women who keep us safe.

Jane Mackey from Battle Creek says, "My husband is a police officer in Battle Creek, so I just want to show our support. It weighs on my mind every day when I have to tell my husband goodbye."

"I ran it with a group of guys that we work with," says Kalamazoo Public Safety Officer Craig Jankowski. "Most of us spend a lot of time with each other when you're away from your family, just a great show of support and a sense of brotherhood."

Saturday night is also about honoring Eric Zapata.

Boatyard Brewing created a special beer called E.Z. Ale that's being offered at the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange.

A portion of the proceeds will go to the Eric Zapata Memorial Foundation.