TAMPA - Wiping away tears, Vanessa Collins placed a full Thanksgiving meal, a teddy bear and note in the spot Michael Valentin used to stand guard.
Valentin was gunned down in the front entrance of the Grande Oaks Apartments Wednesday night. His own gun was still holstered to his side.
"I just dropped off a little teddy bear and a card to let his family know that we are thinking of him because we loved him and we are going to miss him," said Collins.
Collins is not the only resident who appreciated Valentin watching over the neighborhood.
Chaka Zellner is grateful for the silver sedans that ride through the Grande Oaks neighborhood and the armed officers who patrol on foot. The mother of two said there was a time when she was afraid to let her children walk around the apartment complex.
"Now you can go outside. You feel, safe you know? I don't have an issue with walking around," Zellner said.
But that all changed for the worse Wednesday night, when Valentin, who worked for Critical Intervention Services, was killed.
CIS said Valentin was shot, although Tampa police would not reveal the cause of death.
"He was a very nice guy," Zellner said. "He was nice to all the kids."
Valentin was married and the father of two children of his own, ages 4 and 9. He worked as a peace officer for the New York City Department of Homeless Services from 2001 to 2010. He moved to Florida, and joined CIS in October.
"I feel sorry for the family," said Nemal Rolle, who often visits relatives living in the complex. "They had no right to take nobody's life like that," he said.
"What could they have been thinking to take someone's life?" said Tequila Rayford, a resident of the complex.
Throughout Thanksgiving Day, officers with the security firm were stopping cars and people walking through the main entrance, asking questions about Wednesday night's killing.
"You don't know who is next. It could be your child, my child. It could be yourself. It is really sad," said Collins.
Tampa police had an increased presence in the area, patrolling the neighborhood and making at least one arrest, but it was unclear if it was related to Valentin.
It's the second death of a CIS security officer since last year. In May 2011, Matthew Little of Brandon was shot in St. Petersburg while patrolling an apartment complex. Little was the first officer killed in the Largo company's 20-year history.
The company issued a statement that CIS employees often work in some of Florida's most dangerous neighborhoods. One officer said it was not easy working the day after his friend died. "We'll all be there for him," he said of his co-workers.
Just as police continued during the holiday to search for suspects in Valentin's death, one thought couldn't escape Zellner's mind.
"Instead of him being able to go with his family for Thanksgiving, now they have to plan his funeral," she said.
ABC Action News did go to Valentin's home but no one answered the door.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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