Cops-and-robbers may be a childhood game, but 9-year-old Matthew Martinez played a semi-realistic version of it for several hours Sunday — and with adults: officers of the Richmond Police Department’s SWAT and K-9 teams.
The dark-haired elementary school student from Troy, in rural Louisa County, is fascinated by the police and military.
Because of illness — Matthew has cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disease that damages the lungs, digestive system and other organs — he may not have an opportunity to pursue his passion.
But not if Make-A-Wish Greater Virginia has anything to say about it. The group is the local arm of a national organization that gives ailing children, ages 2½ to 18, a chance to live their dreams.
On Sunday, it was Matthew’s turn.
“You always have in the back of your mind that this ... is a life-shortening disease,” said Matthew’s father, Michael Martinez, who designs and assembles prostheses in the orthopedic department of the University of Virginia Health System.
It is something that Michael Martinez and his wife, Mary, know all too well.
Of their four children, three were diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.
One of them, 13-year-old Michael, (cq-same name as his father)died on Christmas Day last year after rejecting a lung transplant. He, too, participated in the Make-A-Wish program, receiving a computer game system 37 days before he died.
A daughter, Abby, 19, has the disease. She is a student at Piedmont Virginia Community College and plans to transfer to Virginia Tech to study veterinary medicine, specializing in treating injured wildlife.
“We have children with cystic fibrosis, not cystic fibrosis children,” said Mary Martinez. “It does not define them.”
Dressed in police-type digital camouflage and tan-colored boots, Matthew’s real-life fantasy included being sworn in as a tactical officer in a ceremony at the RPD academy in North Side. It was attended by about 120 people.
Behind a burly, kilt-wearing Virginia Sate Police bagpiper, Matthew marched into the auditorium with the 24 officers of the Special Weapons and Tactics unit and was administered the oath by interim Chief William C. Smith.
“The important thing about SWAT,” Smith told Matthew, “is you’re never alone. You always have people beside you.”
Matthew sat through a class at the academy, on the edge of the campus of Virginia Union University, before traveling a short distance in the SWAT team’s hulking armored rescue vehicle to a training center near John Marshall High School.
Assisted by police, Matthew worked with tracking and drug-detecting dogs. On his command, one of the canines, Phoenix, a statuesque, brown-and-black Czech shepherd, flushed out a faux suspect — an officer in a heavily padded protective suit — and pulled him to the ground.
The boy also operated a four-propeller, camera-equipped drone and — having been issued a brightly colored Nerf gun that shoots harmless foam pellets — participated in SWAT arrest and rescue exercises.
The Make-A-Wish program, said Sheri Lambert, president of the Greater Virginia chapter, is about creating “lifelong memories.”