When Sweetwater Police Department detectives Sam Cunningham and Lance Richburg first saw four year old Angel Flores on Tuesday morning, June 28, sitting inside police headquarters, it was just another day at the office.
And while the question of the emotional impact on the detectives might come into play for locals absorbing the case, the detectives say it's as easy as turning on a switch.
Cunningham, with 19 years of service with the SPD under his belt, takes it all "a day at a time". While the mantra might sound overused, he has seen the results of slowing down.
"When you slow down, there's less of an opportunity in making mistakes," said Cunningham. "It can be emotional, but you have to separate the emotion from doing the job effectively."
"Emotions don't factor into the investigation," echoed Richburg, who has a total of 18 years in law enforcement.
Richburg and Cunningham both agreed that in high-profile cases like Angel's, they instantly revert back to their training, staying in an investigative mode until it is completely over. And they both know that once it's over, then there will be time to ponder and reflect on the situation.
Both detectives have sons near or around the same age as Angel, so the connection with him was instant — making it easy to take on the father role when spending time with Angel. Richburg described Angel as very resilient, full of life, polite and very inquisitive, also stating that Angel has endured the experience very well.
On the second day while Angel was in the hospital, they were even able to play and take pictures with him.
"We both walked away knowing he was okay," said Richburg. From that point, they agreed that they could then get back into the technical aspect of the case, piecing the puzzle together.
"It lightened the burden," added Cunningham.
Regardless of the similarities of Angel and the detectives' sons, however, they both reiterated that it didn't make the job harder for them. To them, their standard of work stands in acting as if it was someone in their own family. If Angel was eight or even eighty — no matter what the age was, their work ethic would have been just as strong.
Cunningham stated that their job was helping a defenseless victim and having the opportunity to provide closure and safety for the young boy, and while Richburg isn't sure as to what all the boy will remember, he knows that Angel is now away from an imminent threat.
"We became the voice of Angel when Coach Hunt handed him over to us," said Cunningham. "We speak for him."
In addition to the efforts of the local detectives, both men credit many people for their hard work. The Saginaw Police Department, the Eastland County Sheriff's Department and their Chief Deputy Randy Hooks, and the local DA office and law enforcement, along with Sgt. Counts who led the search efforts, were praised for their great job and helpfulness.
In one week's time, over 120 hours have been put into the investigation and still continues, including the paperwork and reports that coincide with the case. Sweetwater Police Chief Jim Kelley stressed the importance of the paperwork, noting that when all of the information is presented for use in the court, it's ready to be used.
The collaborative efforts of all involved is just one way in successfully dealing with the case. Beyond the case, however, being able to rely on each other and vent among others also helps. It also proves to be beneficial, Cunningham says, when your boss is a "great support".
"[Chief Kelley] is a wonderful boss," said Cunningham, shielding the detectives away from the media frenzy and giving them the freedom to their jobs "as long as it's done right."
But along with the reassurance of Angel's safety despite his horrific ordeal, the detectives have seen several other positives as a result. Richburg noted that the good in the case has far outshadowed the bad, while Cunningham has found the people who have come to a person's aid "refreshing".
"One bad person has brought the good out of people," explained Cunningham, in that those who have donated to Angel have done so not wanting recognition. And when recognition comes up, that's one thing the detectives don't want or seek after.
"The best recognition," said Richburg, "would be Angel coming back in several years and doing well."