YORBA LINDA, Calif. --A Yorba Linda high school student received special applause from several Los Angeles police officers during her graduation Thursday.
Sierra Cuesta stepped up to accept her diploma at Esperanza High School, with her proud mother and a large section cheering her on. Among those in the crowd were several LAPD officers, men and women who have become her family.
The officers worked with her father before his tragic death and they've known Sierra since she was an infant.
"Eighteen years ago, when we talked to the family at the funeral we told them - Sierra and Samantha, his children - for the next how many years you're going to have another 20 to 25 moms and dads," LAPD Officer Don Poirier said.
Sierra's father, Fil Cuesta, was a member of the force when he was killed in the line of duty in 1998. The married 26-year-old officer was ambushed and gunned down by a gang member.
"We worked the same unit together for many years, and I considered him a true friend and a true brother," Officer Christopher Gomez said.
His daughters Samantha and Sierra were only 18 months and four weeks old at the time. For 18 years, the officers have been there for the girls' birthdays and other special moments, including Samantha's graduation last year.
"I know there's so many people out there that don't have their dads or their moms and they can't be there for them at their graduation. It's just this huge support system and it just means so much to us and our family," Samantha said.
Everyone thinks about what graduation day would have meant for Fil Cuesta.
"He'd be proud of the young women they've become, and I think he's upstairs smiling down on us," Officer Richard Gabaldon said.