Bernalillo Police Department Detective Pollo Castorena was home and off duty on the evening of Sept. 25 when he heard gunshots outside his Albuquerque home.
Not missing a beat, he reported the gunfire, put on his ballistic vest and department-issued sidearm and went outside to save the gunshot victim's life. The man was in a car and had been shot in the head.
"Detective Castorena immediately started life-saving measures until the EMS personnel arrived," BPD Chief Chris Stoyell said before presenting the BPD Life Saving Award to Castorena. "Detective Castorena put himself in harm's way to save another human's life with dedication and heroism."
Later in the meeting, Stoyell described Castorena as prime example of the kind of people the department wants on its team. "I appreciate you responding off duty," he said, adding, "We're always on duty in this department."
David Gardner of the Coronado Optimist Club of Bernalillo presented Castorena with a certificate of recognition. While Optimist Clubs are know for their work with children, they also honor officers who show the effects of optimism, he said.
Castorena heard from the family of Matt Aragon, the man he saved. While Aragon faces a long recovery and is in a rehab facility, he was able express his thanks through his sister Roxanne to Castorena.
"I am so blessed to be a recipient of your training and experience," she read from her brother's letter. "I'm also happy to know you live down the street from me and my family.
"I can say our community is a safer place with somebody you."
He also noted the suspect in the shooting spent only a few days in jail before being released.
Lloyd Aragon quoted his son as saying he looked forward to someday taking Castorena out for lunch, shaking his hand and giving him a hug. "When I met you a few weeks back, what an honor," the senior Aragon said. "Just the act with professionalism, precisely did it, you did save his life. He would have bled out."
Castorena didn't speak during the presentations but in an interview outside the council chambers told the Signpost Aragon is the courageous one for fighting back from his injuries. "The reason I got into this job is I come from a broken family, and I wanted to make the impact I hoped someone would make on my life," he said. "All I did was give him a chance at life."
Castorena joined BPD in 2019 as a cadet in a town-run training program established to attract and retain new officers. The town paid Castorena and other officers' way through the Central New Mexico Community College Law Enforcement Academy where they emerged as certified officers.
In exchange, the officers had agreed to stay with BPD for at least two years.
Lloyd Aragon added to Castorena's comments saying his son always had a spiritual side but wasn't able to express it. He believes his son had a strong spiritual experience with the shooting and instead of coming out of it angry is humble and appreciative for his life.
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