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ESPAÑOLA — To guard against the all-too-familiar disappointment leveled by adults failing to keep their word, Family YMCA Teen Technology and Recreation Center Director Ben Sandoval kept 23 kids in the dark Friday.
He didn’t tell the kids attending a center sleepover that Los Alamos Police Department Bomb Squad members were on their way down the hill to visit them — just in case it didn’t happen.
Not until hearing the Emergency Response Vehicle enter the parking lot did Sandoval reveal the evening’s plan.
“We’ve had too many people tell us they were going to do something for the kids and then not show up. So I make it a point to never say anything until I’m sure,” Sandoval said. “This is the first presentation by any law enforcement agency to our kids so kudos to the Los Alamos County Police Department for doing this. The kids are so excited.”
Upon hearing the bomb squad was outside, the 12- to 19-year-olds rushed out the door, slowing to gaze at the intriguing sight assembled for them by the officers.
Towering floodlights illuminated the white and blue Emergency Response Vehicle against the dark sky. Bomb-related gear lined one side of the parking lot, two metal robots stood tall in front of the vehicle and uniformed explosives experts stood, smiling, in the center of it all.
Senior Team Leader Sgt. Federico Rascon gave the presentation and was joined by squad members Sgt. Preston Ballew, Cpl. Ben Hinrichs, Cpl. Sheldon and LAPD Prevention Officer Edward Chavez.
Rascon recently met Sandoval while attending a gang intervention and prevention training session hosted by JUNTOS.
“Ben has a lot of knowledge about kids and he really wants to expose them to the positive things that are out there. We talked about how the LAPD could help and this was one of the ideas we discussed,” Rascon said.
The officers spent the evening interacting with the kids, providing hands-on activities that had the kids laughing one minute and silently amazed the next.
The robots garnered enthusiastic attention from the young group who took turns operating the robots with remote control units.
“This is the best night I’ve ever had,” said fifth grader Jennifer Perez, who recently celebrated her 12th birthday — the minimum age to participate in the teen center program. “It’s the first time I’ve gotten to sleep over at the Y and the first time I’ve ever seen police officers with robots and all this stuff.”
Sandoval explained that Perez has siblings in the program and had looked forward to her eligibility for a long time.
“It’s heartwarming for me to see what this means to the kids. I think these officers having the desire to come down here from Los Alamos to show kids the positive side of law enforcement is really wonderful,” Sandoval said.
As the evening came to a close, the kids thanked the officers profusely before heading back inside for the remainder of their sleepover. Painting, dancing and other activities were on the agenda, capped off by a hot breakfast Saturday morning.
The Family YMCA Teen Technology and Recreation Center, 808 Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park Road, is a United Way supported program operated by the Los Alamos Family YMCA.
Rascon explained that similar presentations are available to anyone interested in learning more about the LAPD Bomb Squad.
“All they have to do is contact us and we’ll make arrangements to go out to their school or organization,” he said.
Lt. Scott Mills is the commander of the LAPD Bomb Squad and Cpl. James Rodriguez makes up the sixth member of the team.