PORAC Law Enforcement News — December 2011
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Our Tiny Hero
Jodi Summers

In a day and age when society seems to worry only about itself and no one else, when you frequently hear people ask, “What’s in it for me?” along came a 6-year old, unassuming young man. His name was Jose Johani Verduzco, and this is his story of hope, compassion, generosity and kindness that will restore one’s faith in humanity.

We met Jose when he was 6 years old and in the first grade at E.J. Marshall Elementary School in the City of Chino. His teachers and fellow students loved Jose. He was kind, smart and looked forward to each day. His parents were hardworking, loving parents raising three boys, with Jose in the middle. Life was not easy for the Verduzco family; they struggled just like so many other families are struggling. But one thing they did not have to struggle for was love.

In January of this year, Jose began to complain of headaches, but doctors could find no cause. One February night, Jose’s headache was so severe that his parents rushed him to the emergency room. Jose collapsed in the hallway of the hospital, and his parents knew then that something was desperately wrong.

Doctors discovered that Jose had a malignant stage 4 brain tumor. The good news was that it was operable. In February 2011, Jose’s doctors were able to remove the brain tumor, but within six days the tumor had grown back to its original size. Jose had to endure three additional operations in two months while hospitalized at Loma Linda Medical Center. In April 2011, Jose was able to come home while he continued receiving chemo and radiation treatments.

Jose’s story was passed on to the members of the Chino Police Department, which began collecting donations for the family, which was overcome with medical bills.

In a few days, the Chino Police Officers Association collected just over $1,500. The Verduzco family was invited to the Police Department and presented with a check. The boys were given a tour of the police facility and the opportunity to meet numerous police officers. Jose looked like any other 6-year-old boy with a beautiful smile and rosy cheeks. The only things that gave away the seriousness of his condition were the telltale suture scars across his tiny head. That was at the end of April.

Just three months later, Jose’s headaches came back and his health declined. This time, surgery wasn’t an option. That horrible, ugly, invasive tumor had ruptured in Jose’s brain. Doctors told Jose’s parents he had only weeks to live, and there was nothing they could do but keep him comfortable.

Very few of us can even fathom the horror of hearing those words. The thought of losing a child is devastating, and knowing you are powerless to help is unbearable.

Jose turned 7 years old on July 27, 2011. Family and friends gathered to celebrate what everyone knew would be Jose’s final birthday. His parents invited Chino P.D. Corporals Derek Bishop and Ted Olden, who had been the driving forces behind the support the family received earlier in the year. They contacted Chief Miles Pruitt to tell him about the birthday party and to ask for approval for them to attend in uniform. Without hesitation, the Chief agreed and asked if he could attend as well. The three arrived together to celebrate Jose’s seventh birthday.

Jose was elated to see the police officers and thrilled to think that they would actually come to his birthday party. His mother shared with the officers that Jose had always wanted to be a policeman.

It was in that moment that an idea was born: Wouldn’t it be great to make Jose’s dream come true? Couldn’t we make Jose an honorary officer? With those simple words, we were off and running.

Time was not our friend. We, along with Jose’s family, friends and teachers, were trying to cram a lifetime into mere weeks. Jose’s birthday party was on a Saturday. By Monday, plans were in full swing. A swearing-in ceremony for Honorary Officer Jose Verduzco was scheduled to take place on Thursday, August 11, 2011.

All Jose could think about was becoming a police officer, and on that Thursday afternoon, his dream came true. Although Jose looked small and fragile sitting in his wheelchair, there was no mistaking the happiness on his face

Jose was presented with his very own police uniform, including a shirt, pants, shoes, gun belt and hat. Slowly, Jose’s father dressed him, and when the door opened and Jose came out, the smile on his face said it all.

The final touch was a police radio, which Corporal Olden attached to Jose’s belt. With help from his mom and dad, Jose stood up for photos. Although his frail body couldn’t support his own weight, he looked 10 feet tall. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

Uniformed personnel from the San Bernardino County Sheriff ’s Department and Ontario Police Department assembled with Chino Police Department members for our customary Walk of Honor for Jose before the badge pinning. Uniformed personnel lined the way to our City Council chambers and clapped as Jose was wheeled up the ramp. More than 200 people were in attendance to watch Jose’s swearing-in.

As Jose’s parents and brothers watched, Chief Miles Pruitt read Jose an oath. Chief Pruitt asked, “Do you promise to be brave and good and to always help and protect others?” Jose replied, “I do.” With that, the Chief pinned the Chino Police Department badge on Jose’s uniform. Amid the thunderous clapping and numerous tears, Jose’s dream came true.

Sergeant Rodney Lombard then took the microphone to present Jose with the Medal of Valor ribbon that Lombard had earned during an active shooter incident. Lombard told Jose that he demonstrated all of those traits a Medal of Valor winner has and that it was an honor to share it with him.

Jose was then dispatched to his first call for service. With a lights and sirens escort, Jose and his family responded to the Chino Airport, where the Ontario Police Department’s airship, Air 10, was waiting.

Jose, his father and two brothers were buckled in the backseat. It was hard to tell who was having more fun. Once they were all strapped in, we stepped back and watched the face of our tiniest officer smiling from the window of the helicopter as it took off for a tour of Chino. The crew buzzed the Chino Police Station and flew over Jose’s school, E.J. Marshall, and his home.

Jose’s swearing-in was covered by the local news media. It was our hope that by sharing his story, others would find it in their hearts to help the family, too.

We could have never imagined, when we began this journey with Jose and his family, just how far-reaching it would be. The generosity and support have been phenomenal, beyond what any of us expected.

As soon as the news footage aired, donations began arriving. The generosity of strangers was overwhelming. What did not surprise us was the overwhelming support of our law enforcement community, and we are not talking about just our local agencies. We received donations from as far away as the Chicago P.D., Port Authority Police of New York and New Jersey and even a Dutch prosecutor from the Netherlands.

Within a week, we were contacted by the president of the Anaheim Police Department, whose Association wanted to have a BBQ and raffle for Jose and his family on August 30, 2011. The Anaheim Police Association partnered with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who provided Angels memorabilia to be used in a silent auction to raise money for the family. Jose’s health was seriously deteriorating, and although the Anaheim POA expressed to the Verduzcos that they did not have to attend, Jose and his father were there to show their gratitude and appreciation.

Hot on the heels of the Anaheim P.D. was the Tustin Police Department, which also held a fundraising BBQ on September 7. The Tustin POA president stated the main purpose of the event was to raise money for the family so they could focus their energy on the time they had left with Jose. Unfortunately, Jose would not make it to this event.

In the early morning hours of September 4, 2011, Honorary Officer Jose Johani Verduzco was called home to watch over us from the streets of heaven. Jose was a little boy, wise beyond his years and a hero to many whose strength far surpassed the physical limitations of his frail body.

Jose brought us together. As we all go about our daily business, especially in our given profession, we see too frequently the bad side of human nature. Jose gave us the opportunity to see not just the good, but the greatness of humanity. He gave us hope.

We would like to publicly thank the following agencies for their overwhelming support of this little boy and his family:

• Anaheim Police Officers Association

• Tustin Police Officers Association

• San Luis Obispo Police Officers Association

• Claremont Police Officers Association

• La Habra Police Officers Association

• Chino Police Officers Association

• Chino Police Management Association

• Chino Valley Fire Foundation

• PORAC

• Sierra Madre Police Officers Association

• Signal Hill Police Officers Association

• San Mateo Deputy Sheriff’s Association

• Ontario Police Officers Association

• La Palma Police Officers Association

• Atascadero Police Association

• West Chicago Police Department

• Merced County District Attorney’s Office

• Burbank Police Department

• Manteca Police Department

• West Covina Police Department

• Cody Waters Foundation

• Beaumont Police Department

• California Highway Patrol

• Fontana Police Department

• Redlands Police Department

• Orange County Sheriff ’s Department

• Upland Police Department

• Los Angeles Police Department

• Montclair Police Department

• Inglewood Police Department

• Along with the numerous donations from citizens across the country

In addition, we would like to publicly thank the City of Chino and their employees for their generous donations of leave time that the City converted to cash for the family.

Jose was a beautiful 7-year-old boy who was taken too soon but left us with valuable lessons learned: lessons about genuine kindness, friendship, strength and courage.

We offer this challenge to other organizations: Watch for those opportunities in your own communities to get involved. Don’t wait and hope someone else will, or you stand the chance of missing the opportunity to meet a true hero.

In a time when public service agencies and government in general are under scrutiny, Honorary Officer Jose Verduzco was able to unite the law enforcement community across our State, across the country and across an ocean to ensure the dreams of a 7-year-old boy were met.

To Honorary Officer Jose Verduzco: Your fellow officers will never forget you. Thank you for all you have given us. God bless you.
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