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Dying Boy Gets Wish With Aid From Officers : Friendship between a 9-year-old cancer victim and deputies leads to a final visit with the youngster's jailed father.

March 13, 1994|MARY ANNE PEREZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A traffic accident in front of Joshua Anthony Moreno'shome in late December brought sheriff's Deputy Isaac Gonzalez to the 9-year-old's doorstep. It was the beginning of a friendship that made the dying boy's last wishes come true and profoundly changed Gonzalez's life.

Joshua, whose dream was to become a police officer, died of cancer (rhabdomyosarcoma) Feb. 21 at home, with Gonzalez holding his hand. His funeral at St. Lucy's Catholic Church three days later included a procession of police cars and fire engines and was attended by members of the East Los Angeles Sheriff's Station, the Los Angeles and Monterey Park police departments and the state Department of Justice.

"We were overwhelmed by the amount of courage and determination he had in conquering his illness at such a young age," wrote Gonzalez, 30, who sent letters to friends and political representatives about Joshua.

Gonzalez, a 10-year veteran, his fellow deputies and members of the East Los Angeles chapter of the Latino Peace Officers Assn. tried to grant Joshua's every wish: a visit to a pro basketball game where he met Phoenix Sun Charles Barkley and Lakers James Worthy and Vlade Divac, a trip in a patrol car, a chance to climb up the ladder of a fire engine.

But what Joshua wanted most was to see his father, Jose Salvador Moreno, an inmate at Chino State Prison. The state will release a prisoner to a sheriff's department only if $2,000 is paid for officers' travel time. Upon hearing of Joshua's wish, however, two officers volunteered their time to bring father and son together at Belvedere Park on Jan. 29.

There, Gonzalez and others had arranged for a cake and Joshua's favorite--cheese pizza--for the short but emotional reunion.

"When he saw his father, he felt happy," said Joshua's mother, Olivia Espinoza, 36. Joshua has two sisters, Joanna, 8, and Jennifer, 9 months.

The officers who helped spread the word about Joshua and collect donations for his care said they gained strength from the boy's courage and were heartened by the offers of help.

"It causes you to re-evaluate your own life and your own existence and humanity and how you relate to other people," said Deputy Ed Rubalcaba, 44, a bailiff in the East Los Angeles Municipal Court. Rubalcaba collected $600 from court employees and arranged for former Dodger Fernando Valenzuela to visit Joshua.

Judge Daniel Lopez made Joshua "judge for a day," and Judge Anthony Luna bought a month's supply of groceries for the family.

Other donations included a hospital bed and medical help from the Community Hospice Care, a funeral and casket from Moritz Funeral Home in Montebello, a plot at Resurrection Cemetery and a reception at the Quiet Cannon Restaurant in Monterey Park.

Altogether, $5,000 was collected for Joshua's fund. Half of it will go to his family and the rest will be used for other families facing difficult situations in the Eastside, Gonzalez said.

Shortly before his death, Joshua said he had a dream in which he met Jesus, who said the boy would be with him soon. In the dream, Joshua, who was bald from his cancer treatments, had his hair back.

"I have my moments, but for whatever reason, I get strength from him," said Gonzalez. "I was there for him. I was there when he passed away. I can't help but think that that was his way of thanking me. When he left, his last breath, it was so relieving and peaceful. It was peaceful for me. He just let it go. It was emotional, but I just thanked God that it was over for him.

"Why He would put such a little child through so much pain, I don't know. Maybe he's trying to tell someone something, maybe me."

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