She calls him angelito — “little angel” in Spanish.
Angel Rodriguez Contreras weighed only a little more than 2 pounds when he was born four months prematurely 13 years ago. He spent the first year of his life in the hospital.
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, he’s used a wheelchair ever since to get around.
On Wednesday, June 20, Angel’s mother, Guadalupe, wheeled Angel down a small ramp leading from the front door of their modest apartment in downtown Anaheim to the porch.
But a larger ramp that gave them smooth access to their minivan was missing.
Unbelievably, someone had unbolted the wheelchair ramp from the porch and made off with it.
“I walked out and it was gone,” Guadalupe said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to get my son down the stairs?’”
It took a while, but she was able to carry him to the car.
APD detectives surmise the thief is a drug user who needed a fix by selling or recycling the ramp for the aluminum.
“(The bad guy) maybe got $15 for it, tops,” said Det. JC Rodriguez of the APD’s Burglary/Auto Theft Detail.
Said APA President and APD Officer Edgar Hampton: “When people say drugs are a victimless crime, they don’t realize all the repercussions of drug use.”
When Rodriguez and his Spanish-speaking partner, APD Civilian Investigator Mari Aborqui, visited Guadalupe to do a follow-up investigation after the theft, looking for possible leads or video, they both knew they wanted to help her and Angel out.
Guadalupe couldn’t afford to buy a new ramp.
So Rodriguez, a member of the executive board of the Anaheim Police Association, asked his colleagues on the APA board if he could reach out to membership to raise money for the Contreras family.
“I know any of our (APA) members would have done the same thing,” Rodriguez said. “I just got the (theft) call.”
Rodriguez asked Guadalupe what else she needed besides a new ramp.
At first she said nothing, but after Rodriguez persisted, she said she needed a special-needs car seat. Angel, who weighs about 75 pounds, had outgrown his other car seat.
The APA reached out to Walmart, a longtime community partner, regarding the wheelchair ramp. The retailer happily agreed to pay $200 for a new one.
Then the APA reached out to its members to raise money for the car seat.
To date, about 50 APA members have donated $1,019 to pay for it.
The total for the special-needs car seat was $1,202.49, a price significantly discounted by the vendor, National Seating & Mobility of Anaheim.
At its board meeting in June, the APA unanimously agreed to pay the balance if the full amount for the car seat isn’t raised, said Gaby Atilano, administrative manager at the APA.
On Aug. 15, Rodriguez, Aborqui and other members of the APD and APA — including Atilano and Jackie Kearns, administrative specialist at the APA — visited Guadalupe and Angel to deliver the new wheelchair ramp to their home in the 300 block of S. Lemon Street.
The car seat already is in Guadalupe’s Honda Odyssey.
“We’re proud of our officers for stepping up and helping this family,” Atilano said. “We’re proud to represent them.”
Neighbor Alfred Acosta came out to observe the scene.
“That’s so messed up,” Acosta said of the theft. “That’s bad. That’s the lowest of the low. She goes totally out of her way for her son.”
About a week after the ramp was stolen, a neighbor who works at Home Depot had colleagues make a temporary ramp out of wood, with “Angel” stamped on the side.
Guadalupe said she’s grateful for all the APD and APA has done.
“I didn’t expect this,” she said. “I was very surprised that they came out and did this. I’m very glad they have taken note of me and my son’s needs.”
Shortly after Angel came home from the hospital when he was 1, Guadalupe had to stop working at JC Penney to care for him full time.
Angel’s father, who physically abused Guadalupe, abandoned the family when Angel was 5.
Angel recently celebrated his 13th birthday.
A balloon to mark the big day, on July 17, still floats above the kitchen table in his apartment.
For his birthday, Guadalupe made Angel a birthday cake.
“My life changed when he was born,” she says. “But I have my treasure. I love him so much.”
As for who stole the Contreras’ wheelchair ramp, Rodriguez says there are no leads.
If you would like to help out Guadalupe and her son, please make checks payable to the Anaheim Police Association and write “Angel Rodriguez Contreras” in the memo line. The APA’s address is 508 N. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, CA 92805. All check and cash donations also can be delivered directly to the APA office or to Det. JC Rodriguez in the APD’s Burglary/Auto Theft Detail, 425 S Harbor Blvd, Anaheim, CA 92805. To donate online, click here.