Farmington police brighten family's Christmas

Noel Lyn Smith
From left, Farmington Police Department Patrol Officer Keith Herrera and Cpl. Albert Boognl talk on Monday during an interview at the police department headquarters in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — Farmington police brightened one family’s Christmas this year by supplying the family temporary housing and much-needed items.

The good deed started when Patrol Officer Keith Herrera responded to a call the afternoon of Dec. 23 about an unwanted person at a local motel.

In an interview Monday, Herrera said that when he arrived, he observed people removing items from a room at the motel. Herrera then discovered a mother and her four children — three girls and a boy — had been temporarily living at the motel.

Herrera said he also learned the mother had run out of money to pay for an additional stay at the motel and was waiting for her sister to pick up the family.

As Herrera waited for the sister's arrival, he said he found out more about the family's situation.

Through the conversation, he learned one child had a medical condition that requires constant monitoring by the mother. Because of the child’s health, the mother could not work.

“After talking to this mother and seeing her four children, they needed a break. A true break. She was doing everything she could,” said Herrera, who declined to name the family, citing concerns for their privacy.

When he learned the family did not have enough food, he offered the mother money for meals.

“It touched me,” Herrera said. “I commended her. For one, she’s a single mother, four kids, and she’s trying to do the very best that she can to provide for her family. Although she was in a hard spot."

With an understanding of the family's situation, Herrera notified Patrol Cpl. Albert Boognl and Lt. Dale Bode.

Bode, who was unavailable for an interview on Monday, paid out-of-pocket for four additional nights at the motel and notified Chief Steve Hebbe about the situation. That's when the police department decided to "adopt" the family for Christmas.

Herrera sent an email to department staff seeking support and donations to help the family.

The effort raised more than $1,200 in less than 24 hours.

“It was a lot more than I expected. …This was obviously a team effort. Everybody within the agency came together to help this family,” Herrera said.

Farmington Police Department Patrol Officer Keith Herrera pauses during an interview on Monday at the police department headquarters in Farmington.

On Christmas Eve, Herrera and Boognl picked up the family and escorted them, along with Hebbe and police spokeswoman Georgette Allen, on a shopping trip at Target.

“Needless to say, they started with clothes and stuff they needed, which was a surprise to me,” Herrera said.

Watching the children shop for necessities, rather than gifts, hit home for Boognl.

“It wasn’t, ‘I want an X-box or I want a bike or I want this.’ It was, ‘I need underwear. I need socks and I need shoes’ because the circumstances — both what took them to the hotel or motel — they left without a whole lot of stuff,” Boognl said in an interview on Monday.

He recalled the children were quiet at first and then opened up as the shopping trip proceeded. They also expressed a desire to select items to give each other for Christmas, he said.

As for the mother, she declined to pick items for herself and continued to focus on her children, Boognl said.

“As long as her kids were taken care of,” Boognl started.

“That’s all she cared about,” Herrera finished.

Farmington police shared news of the good deed on the department’s Facebook page. As of Monday afternoon, the post had more than 33,900 likes and more than 2,200 comments.

When asked if they had heard from the family since last week, the officers said Allen had received an email from the mother.

Boognl said the department wants to keep in contact with the family, who may relocate to Gallup or Phoenix.

“It was a real cool feeling to be a part of and to see everybody surround this family and say, ‘Hey, they need help.’ It wasn’t so much a hand out but they needed a hand up,” Boognl said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

From left, Farmington Police Department Patrol Officer Keith Herrera and Cpl. Albert Boognl pose for a portrait on Monday outside the police department headquarters in Farmington.