Vigil celebrates slain Detroit firefighter
Detroit — Hundreds of firefighters and supporters gathered Tuesday night to remember a veteran Detroit firefighter found slain in his home this week.
The vigil drew residents near Engine 33, Ladder 13 on Lawndale in southwest Detroit who knew David Madrigal Sr., “the mayor of Vaughn,” after the street where he lived.
“If my house were burning down, he would be the first to kick in the door and save me,” Cathy Garza said.
His cousin, Ernesto Madrigal, said he was helpful to anyone who asked.
“Anytime you needed a favor he was there to help you. He never said no,” he said.
Mourners held candles during a moment of silence outside the firehouse where Madrigal drove rigs. White Christmas lights decorated the firehouse.
On Tuesday, the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office said Madrigal died of blunt force trauma to his head.
His body was discovered around 7:45 p.m. on the 7600 block of Vaughn on the city’s west side by his son, David Madrigal Jr., fire officials said.
“Any death is sad, but this is incredibly sad for a son to discover his father deceased,” Fire Commissioner Eric Jones said. “My heart goes out to the family: His direct family and to his firefighting family.”
Madrigal, a 26-year veteran of the department, was the “mayor” of his street and heavily involved in department outreach, officials said.
“He was part of the fabric of the community; he was an activist,” said Fire Fighters Association President Mike Nevin. “He always had a lending hand. I think that’s what hurts the most.”
Madrigal participation in parades, holiday gift wrapping, feeding the homeless and performing funeral honor guard duties, Jones said.
Madrigal’s home was ransacked and personal property was reported missing, including a black 2015 Ford Explorer with the Michigan license plate number 247S21C, police said.
The burned-out vehicle was found Saturday in southwest Detroit before Madrigal’s body was discovered, police said.
Jones and Nevin on Tuesday declined to discuss details of the investigation. They said coworkers last heard from Madrigal on Saturday morning to talk about a Fire Department gift wrapping event. They expected him to participate but he never arrived, Jones said.
“They didn’t see him. I know there had been firefighters who called to check on him that day and they left messages,” he said.
Madrigal’s son conducted his own welfare check Monday.
“He was very close to his dad; they communicate daily,” Jones said. “He became concerned and decided it was best to go over and physically check on his dad.”
The firefighter was a grandfather who also is survived by a daughter, Christina Madrigal, officials said.
The elder Madrigal was preparing for retirement this spring, Jones and Nevin said. He planned to celebrate with friends and family with a picnic-style party on Belle Isle in June.
“He was a homebody. He was an old soul,” Nevin said. “He loved the fire department.”
Madrigal’s passion for firefighting was evident early Tuesday outside the home where he was found killed.
The home sits on a street of mostly one-and-half-story homes, many with bars on the doors and windows.
Madrigal’s front door has no bars, but features a Brinks security sticker and metal firefighting emblem. In the front yard, an old red and white fire hydrant sits in the garden while at the end of the driveway there hangs a "No Parking: Fire Lane" sign.
At least two fire department rigs reportedly took shifts early Tuesday watching Madrigal’s house. The second rig left the scene shortly after 7 a.m.
The vigil is one example of the department pulling together during times of tragedy, Jones said.
“I spoke with (Madrigal Jr.) this morning and said: ‘This is your family, you’re not alone,’” Jones said. “We’re going to get through this by taking care of each other, as we always do.”
Madrigal’s death is hitting the department hard in the wake of several recent firefighter injuries and deaths, Jones said.
“Over the past few weeks, we’ve had EMTs slashed, we’ve had firefighters injured, then we had two back-to-back deaths,” Jones said.
Last month, 49-year-old St. Vincent Smith was found dead from medical complications at Engine 48 in Southwest Detroit, Jones said. Smith was temporarily assigned to that station but normally worked at Engine 33 with Madrigal.
The next day, Capt. Walter Szelag, 56, died from cardiac arrest after helping his team winterize a fire department boat, Jones said.
“And we had a firefighter fall through the floor yesterday and was hospitalized,” Jones said. “These men and women ... I stand in awe. They will walk into a burning building to rescue a stranger. I can say no more.”
Both Jones and Nevin acknowledged their department is shaken by Madrigal’s sudden death near the holidays.
“We’re going to push through, but this one hurts,” Nevin said. “He did not deserve this. This is just not right. Our guys are hurt. We’re angry.
“But we have all the faith in the world in the Detroit Police Department, and we have all the faith in the world that our brothers in blue will find (out who is) responsible for this.”
Fire officials are discussing offering a reward for information in the case, Jones said. Details will be released later Tuesday as they become available.
“The Commissioner and the union president are sitting here unified,” Jones said of efforts to find Madrigal’s killer.
Anyone with information is asked to call Detroit police homicide investigators at (313) 596-2260 or Crime Stoppers at 1 (800) SPEAK-UP.
“It might be something small but you never know the stage of the investigation,” Jones said. “There’s no bad lead, ever. Your phone call could result in an arrest. We need this person off the street right now.”