By Daryl Kelley
Call him Deputy Landeros.
Little Saul Landeros, a first-grader at Sunset School, was sworn in Tuesday as an honorary Ventura County deputy by Sheriff Bob Brooks as friends, family and county supervisors applauded.
“Cool,” said the 7-year-old, already dressed in a deputy’s uniform and beaming after Brooks attached a badge to his swelling chest.
“It’s a great honor to swear him in,” Brooks told the Board of Supervisors.
Then, turning to Saul, Brooks said: “Based on the fact that you have already demonstrated courage and that you like to help other people, I officially make you a junior deputy sheriff of Ventura County.”
As Saul twisted and squirmed, Board President Linda Parks added: “You are a very special young man. It’s great to have you on the force.”
The swearing-in ceremony was part of a day-long effort by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Tri-Counties and the Sheriff’s Department to grant the boy, who has fought brain cancer for two years, his greatest wish – to become a sheriff’s deputy.
Since he was a toddler, said Saul’s mother, Rosa, the boy has wanted only to be a police officer. So when Make-A-Wish officials quizzed him on what he most wanted to do, who he most wanted to meet, what he most wanted to see, he said without hesitation that he’d like be a deputy.
After the ceremony, Brooks said in an interview that his department was honored to deputize Saul because he such a brave little boy.
“He’s demonstrated a lot of courage,” the sheriff said. “And he has hope for the future.”
Before Saul’s special day was done, he’d pulled on his dark sheriff’s sunglasses to ride shotgun in a patrol black-and-white from his Ventura home to a morning assembly at Sunset Elementary School in Oak View.
He’d been whisked in the same police cruiser to the County Government Center, as his family followed in a long, white limousine. There, he’d been quizzed by print, radio and television reporters from around the Southland: In short, he told reporters that he liked police because they catch bad guys.
After Brooks swore him in, Saul’s family was taken to the Ojai Police Station, where a reception awaited and where he would receive training by canine and mounted deputies. His big surprise was a flight in a sheriff’s helicopter to Ojai.
Saul’s special day started early, when he rose from his bed beneath a Spider-Man poster to pull his thin body into a deputy sheriff’s uniform made specially for him. It came complete with a badge, name ID, jailer’s keys, handcuffs, black sunglasses, black tie, gold tie clasp and new black boots.
“His dad said he was really excited last night and couldn’t wait,” said sheriff’s Capt. Jerry Hernandez, who was Saul’s partner for the day.
At Sunset Elementary, more than 300 students and dozens of parents and teachers crowded into the auditorium to honor a boy Principal Jose Montano described as “this brave little man.”
As teachers past and present spoke of Saul’s good soul, kindly spirit and strength, the 4-foot-tall, 50-pound youngster sat next to his family on stage, looking at the floor, glimpsing his classmates in the first row and smiling shyly at his parents, Rosa and Efrain Landeros.
The tears began to flow when Saul’s brother, Tony spoke to the assembly.
“I’d like to thank everybody from the bottom of my heart for this day for my little brother,” said Tony, 22, a college student. “You don’t know what this means to us. It’s one of the greatest moments of my life.”
Saul’s mother, a homemaker, added: “I am here with my son, happy, because his dream is coming true. … You don’t know how much my son has suffered. But it has taught us to love, to love life.”
And his father, a grounds-keeping supervisor at a country club, said: “I like to tell parents here to pay attention to your children. We don’t know what’s happening in their bodies. Give them love and attention.”
As Saul and Hernandez left the auditorium, students shouted loudly the mantra of Make-A-Wish: “Hope! Strength! Joy!”
Outside, Saul smiled broadly and said he liked the whole thing.
“It felt good,” he said.
Since its inception here in 1985, the local Make-A-Wish chapter has granted more than 800 wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses.
Domino’s Pizza, Saul’s favorite food, underwrote the cost of the wish, about $5,000, by asking customers to make donations. Marcie’s European Tailoring in Ventura stitched Saul’s deputy uniform from material donated by On Duty, a local uniform supply store. Deputies at the Ojai station collected mementos to place in a duty bag for Saul. And they captured the day in photographs to be presented as a scrapbook to him later.
Saul also received gifts from donations by officers at the Ojai station.
“This staff here really has rallied to make this special,” said Bruce Norris, Ojai Police Chief. “Most of us have young kids, and this was just a great opportunity to share with Saul and give him the experience of what it is to be a police officer.”
By Daryl Kelley