By Jaimee Lynn Fletcher
The 9-year-old had a simple and short birthday wish list: lunch with his friends and a trip to Toys R Us.
Mateo Sanchez doesn’t know his friends by name, but he knows them by the cars they drive and the uniforms they wear.
He knows when he waves to them from the back seat of his family’s car, they wave back.
And he knows that if he ever needs them, they will be there.
So Mateo was fairly certain those friends also would show up for his birthday lunch.
He was right.
Members of the Westminster Police Department celebrated Mateo’s birthday with a pizza party at the police department Monday — something his parents said was a well-deserved break for their son.
Mateo is one of four siblings and one of three who has autism. He spends hours every week in speech, occupational and physical therapies.
“This means a lot,” said his mom, Sophie Sanchez. “He’s been through a lot and just to see the smile on his face means so much.”
The Sanchez family brought the pizza, soda and homemade cookies. Three Westminster officers brought gifts and a long list of questions for the birthday boy.
“Do you know how cool it is that you wanted to spend your birthday with us?” Cmdr. Bill Collins asked Mateo. “It’s really cool. We like it probably more than you do.”
Mateo dressed up for the occasion — a long-sleeved blue oxford shirt accented with a bow tie and a ball cap with block lettering that read “police.”
The middle schooler wants to be an officer when he grows up, he shared before ripping into the two presents — a DVD of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” and a remote-controlled police car, which were paid by members of the PD.
“This hit the spot!” Mateo said, leaning back in his chair.
Collins, along with Sgt. Kevin MacCormick and Officer Roland Perez talked with Mateo about soccer, catching bad guys and video games as they dined on pepperoni and sausage pizza.
The officers then took him to his next birthday surprise — a tour of the station.
Mateo climbed into patrol SUV and through the West County SWAT Bearcat. He also sat on top of a Westminster PD motorcycle, posing like a natural.
The officers then walked Mateo through the watch commander’s office and the department’s armory where he got to strap on a bulletproof vest.
“It’s too heavy,” Mateo said laughing as MacCormick helped pull the vest over his head.
Mateo thanked the officers when the tour was over but not before making sure they would be available for next year’s birthday celebration.
The officers promised they would be — same time, same place.
This article provided to the OC Tribune by Behind The Badge. Want more on law enforcement news and issues? Go to http://www.behindthebadgeoc.com .