HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — It all started with a call about a suspicious person. A young man tooled around on a bright red bicycle, pulling up to parked cars and giving the door handles a good tug.
But within 25 minutes of the police call to the upscale suburban neighborhood, the emergency was no longer about a possible burglar on a bike. A flurry of police in tactical gear rushed the neighborhood after a police officer was shot and killed, leading an overnight search by foot and air for hours.
“I think I’ve got an officer shot right now,” a winded officer shouted into the police radio just before midnight Sunday from Emerald Hills, a neighborhood of lush tree-lined streets with parks and canals between Stirling Road and Sheridan Street. Forty-two seconds later the same officer gets back on the radio: “Yeah, I got an officer shot,” according to Broadcastify, a service that records police radio scanners.
With no time to wait, police grabbed Officer Yandy Chirino, rushing him in a police cruiser to Memorial Hospital, where doctors were unable to save his life. Chirino, 28, had been with the department for four years.
The suspect accused of killing Chirino is Jason Banegas, 18.
Few details about the confrontation were provided by police throughout the day Monday. By 5:30 p.m. police still had not booked the suspect in jail.
“I can tell you that (Chirino) was great person,” said Officer Christian Lata.
Lata said he last spoke to Chirino a week ago when the officer told Lata he spent his day off cheering on the Hollywood Police Athletic League’s youth football team in a match-up against a Miami youth league. “That’s the kind of person he was,” Lata said.
Police Chief Chris O’Brien’s voice broke as he shared the news of the young officer’s death at a news conference Monday morning. Chirino, the chief said, had been recognized multiple times in his short career and was Officer of the Month in June 2020.
Chirino’s death was a reminder that the men and women of the police force respond to crime scenes resulting in the worst days of somebody’s life and some of the worst things that humanity has to offer, O’Brien said.
“I want to remind everyone that the dangers our officers face on a daily basis are real,” O’Brien said. “Too often we take for granted or minimize those dangers.
“There are not many professions where you risk your life for the protection of others every single day and sometimes multiple times a day,” he said.
“Last night, officer Chirino left the safety of his home, came to work to protect his community and tragically will not be going home to his loved ones this morning.”
Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy joined O’Brien and other officers during the announcement: “To be here this morning united in grief and sadness with the loss of this young man is a reminder of the dangers our officers face every day and the fragile nature of human life.”
Chirino’s social media footprint reveals that he did a lot of living in a tragically short time for a man who didn’t reach his 30th birthday.
“Life is not really long,” the narrator says in a YouTube video Chirino posted six years ago.
“Let’s say the average person is 30 years old,” the unknown narrator continues in a feed Chirino used to create his own movie. “How much traveling have you done in 30 years?”
The video cuts to Chirino powering through the water on a jet ski with his girlfriend “Princess Maria,” zip lining and river rafting, among other adventures, in just one of multiple videos he posted of their travels to places such as Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Epcot and more — even learning to fly a plane.
Chirino graduated from Police Academy Class 308, and he selflessly devoted his life to law enforcement, O’Brien said.
Many took to social media Monday to express their sorrow.
“It’s always tough when the community loses a police officer in the line of duty,” Plantation Police Officer Joseph Mercogliano posted on Facebook. “But it hurts a lot more when it is one of your past cadets. RIP Officer Yandy Chirino (badge) #3534. The community, PA Class 308 and I will never forget you.”
Chirino was a soccer player and attended Miami Coral Park Senior High, according to an online profile, and graduated in 2011.
His social media presence reflected a young man with a big heart.
In 2014 the AXE Peace line debuted male grooming products and encouraged its followers to send in a photo of their love to #KissForPeace and the best would be featured in Manhattan on a Times Square billboard. The company tagged Chirino twice in 2014 writing “You’re kind of a big deal” and in another: “How does it feel to be famous? Your #KissForPeace just debuted in New York City!”
Banegas, police say, faces charges of first-degree murder, armed burglary, battery on a law enforcement officer, grand theft of a firearm and resisting arrest with violence.
At just 18, the suspected killer already has a lengthy arrest record. Banegas has had a string of run-ins with the police across Miami-Dade County on charges that include burglary, car theft and mischief, state records show.
In September last year, Miami Police detained Banegas on suspicion of having cocaine with intent to sell or distribute near a school, a charge that wasn’t pursued by prosecutors. In February 2020, Miami-Dade County Police held him on burglary and trespassing charges. In 2018, he was held on charges of stealing a car and resisting an officer without violence, the records show. The same year, Coral Gables police arrested him on a burglary charge, but prosecutors dismissed that case. In 2016, Miami-Dade Schools Police accused him of burglary and criminal mischief. In 2015, he was charged with resisting an officer without violence.
Early Monday morning investigators at the crime scene put yellow markers around clothing on a sidewalk. A Hollywood Police SUV was parked nearby. A bicycle was on the ground in front of the SUV near Mara Berman Giulianti Park at 4151 N. Hills Drive.
According to Elliot Kugelman, who lives in the neighborhood where the shooting occurred, police had been warning residents that one and possibly two people on bicycles were going through the streets, testing car doors in order to rummage through them.
Kugelman said his son-in-law was contacted and told his car had been rifled through at 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
After the shooting, Hollywood police, their SWAT team, and officers from neighboring agencies canvassed the area, knocking on doors and going through yards with dogs, searching for suspects, said Kugelman.
Several residents said helicopters circled overnight for long periods of time.
How and when police detained the suspect was not clear late Monday.
Susie Loberfeld and her daughter have lived in the neighborhood for seven years. Early Monday evening they tied blue ribbon around the tree in their front yard.
“We just want the Hollywood Police Department and Broward Sheriff’s Office to know that we feel for them,” Loberfeld said. “He was here protecting me and my family.”
On North 41st Street, nearly every house on the block had blue ribbons tied on trees or mailboxes.
A resident named Daphne, who declined to give her last name for safety reasons, learned of the teen’s arrest when a friend texted her late Monday morning. It unnerved her. She usually goes outside for a run or walk but felt unsafe Monday in a area that is usually filled with people running, walking dogs, pushing strollers.
“I just didn’t feel safe leaving my house. … They do so much for our community,” she said of the police. “I just feel so terrible that this guy lost his life over something so stupid.”
Monday evening, a makeshift memorial had been attached to the fence outside the park where the shooting happened. Bouquets of pink and purple carnations and yellow roses were left at the memorial. Someone printed a sign that said “Officer Yandy Chirino thank you for your bravery and protecting our community.”
A school-aged girl holding a single white rose walked over to the fence and taped a hand-written note to it: “Rest in peace officer Yandy Chirino may you rest In peace in heaven.”
(Staff writers Brooke Baitinger and Juan Ortega and staff photojournalist Joe Cavaretta contributed to this report.)