Ahmed Altekreeti and Ron Tarentino both worked the overnight shift — Altekreeti at the Shell station on Washington Street in Auburn and Tarentino at the town’s police station.
The two became friends over the past year and a half, when Tarentino would stop for gas or coffee, and chat about good food, Mustangs, or his family, Altekreeti said Sunday night, still in shock at the news that the police officer had been killed earlier that day during a traffic stop.
He said Tarentino was one of his best friends in the United States after he moved here from Iraq a year and a half ago.
“He was the one that kept pushing me forward to get a better life, get a job,” Altekreeti said in a brief phone interview.
The last time the two saw each other, Altekreeti said, was Thursday night, when Tarentino stopped to buy coffees for his night shift colleagues.
Tarentino said, “Forgive me, I have no time for chitchat today, I’ll see you later,” Altekreeti recalled.
“I was like, ‘OK, see you later,’ ” Altekreeti said. He never did.
Other acquaintances and friends said Tarentino was a loving father and caring friend who liked good food and cars.
Stephen Derrick, pastor of the Greenville Baptist Church in Rochdale, which Tarentino and his wife attended, remembered a time last summer when Tarentino helped at the end of vacation Bible school to tear down tents and a bouncy room, and pack a popcorn maker into a trailer.
Tarentino didn’t go to church every Sunday, the pastor said, but when he did, you couldn’t miss him.
“He was a tall man; I always saw him sitting there in the back row with [his wife],” he said.
Derrick said he was called to the hospital early Sunday morning to talk with Tarentino’s wife, parents, and two youngest sons.
The oldest, he said, is serving in the military at Fort Bragg, but has been able to catch a flight home.
“Clearly Ron was very loved, and there is no shortage of people who are going to miss him deeply,” Derrick said.
Policing ran in Tarentino’s blood.
His father was a longtime officer at the Medford Police Department who retired about a year and a half ago, Medford Lieutenant Mark Rudolph said.
Rudolph said the whole department was mourning Sunday for the Tarentino family.
“We’re all very sad over the loss of our own Ron Tarentino’s son, Ron Jr.,” Rudolph said.
He said Tarentino’s father was a caring family man and a dedicated police officer.
Altekreeti, at the gas station, remembered the time he took Tarentino and his family out to eat at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Clinton. Tarentino loved the shawarma and falafel, he said.
He also loved rock music from the 1980s and deer hunting, he said.
Altekreeti recalled a time about three months ago when he said his gas station was robbed on a Saturday during the day. Tarentino started to drop by the gas station on Saturdays, even though he wasn’t on duty, to chat and make sure things were safe, Altekreeti said.
Tarentino grew up in Tewksbury. Mike Kaminski, a teacher in Lowell, knew him when they both attended Tewksbury Memorial High School, and recalled him as “a protector,” who would always make sure all of their friends were safe.
Kaminski said he recently spoke with Tarentino about their upcoming 25th class reunion.
In high school, Tarentino played basketball, and Kaminski said his nickname was Stork because he was lanky.
“Ron was the type of friend that you were lucky to have. A gentle man with an immense heart and quite funny,” Kaminski said.
Robert Bjorkgren, a Tewksbury police officer, said he had known Ron since junior high and was in his wedding.
When they were 19, the two drove 26 hours straight to Ft. Myers, Fla., in a white Mercury Sable, Bjorkgren said. Tarentino wouldn’t let his friend drive.
The pair spent three weeks lounging on the beach and bass fishing, he said.
“Ron was what everybody wanted to be,” Bjorkgren said. “Great heart, good soul, and very kind. People throw around those sayings, but Ron was truly a great man.”