School resource officer’s friendship with student pays off when tragedy strikes

By Greg Hardesty

The 16-year-old returned to his apartment after school to discover the unimaginable horror inside:

His beloved sister — his best friend — dead from gunshot wounds.

That life-changing trauma for Sergio, a junior at Laguna Hills High School, occurred on the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 14.

The distraught teenager had great difficulty containing his emotions as Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputies and investigators began processing the grisly scene inside the apartment in the 25000 block of Via Lomas in Laguna Hills.

Yahaira Ocegueda Boykins, 23, a mother of three and Sergio’s sister, had been shot to death by her estranged husband, Jerel Boykins, 26, who unloaded an entire clip on his wife less than a week after she had secured a restraining order against the Marine, according to OCSD investigators.

Sergio had known about his sister’s toxic relationship with Boykins, as had their parents, who shared the apartment with her and her three children, two of them with Boykins.

But the teenager never imagined he would come home and see such carnage.

Patrol deputies had to place Sergio in the back of a patrol unit.

The teenager — his emotions a tangle of shock, rage, grief and disbelief — repeatedly made a request:

“I need to talk to Deputy Sambrano.”

***

Soon after he became a school resource officer stationed at Laguna Hills High last fall, Sambrano noticed Sergio.

Well liked by teachers who considered him respectful, and doing well in his classes, Sergio, a humble, charismatic, overall kind-hearted teen, nevertheless ended up hanging out with a troublemaker.

That problem student had repeated discipline issues, was involved in drugs, and was a wannabe gang member, Sambrano said.

“Sergio was a follower only,” the deputy said. “I reached out to him and said, ‘Dude, you don’t need to be hanging out with this kid. You don’t commit these acts, he does. But some of the school staff members find you guilty by association. You can do a lot better. Pick friends who are going to be good for you.’ ”

Sergio took the deputy’s advice and stopped hanging out with that student, who soon was expelled.

“I think it’s because I was honest with him,” Sambrano said of why he and Sergio clicked. “I never sugarcoat things.”

Their relationship grew.

OCSD Deputy Anthony Sambrano says a key part of an SRO’s job is to build trusting relationships with students.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Sergio would pop into Sambrano’s office to chat, viewing the school resource officer as a mentor and friend.

The deputy would talk to him about issues such as anger management, as well as anxiety and stress.

“He’s the type of person who gets fired up from zero to 10 very quickly,” Sambrano said.

The deputy came to learn more about Sergio and his working-class family.

He learned about Sergio’s love for cooking and aspirations of becoming a professional chef, and how he loved to cook for his parents, sister, and his nephews.

He learned about how Yahaira Ocegueda Boykins was a hardworking, outgoing, motherly young woman who loved her family and was jugging child-rearing with a full-time job as a dental assistant.

Then the shooting happened, right around the corner from Laguna Hills High School.

***

Sambrano didn’t hear the shots, but he heard the call go out over the radio about a female shot multiple times.

Because his primary job is to ensure the safety of Laguna Hills High School’s 1,600 students, as well as teachers and staff, Sambrano’s first thought was that the school might have to go on lockdown.

Soon, however, he heard from OCSD patrol deputies that the suspect had fled the scene in a car.

Sambrano knew where Sergio and his family lived, and he feared the worst.

Oh God, he thought. I hope this isn’t Sergio’s house.

OCSD deputies quickly made sure that two of Ocegueda Boykins’ three sons, who attend local schools, were safe.

Sambrano then got a call from a deputy at the scene of the killing.

“You need to get over here right now,” the deputy told Sambrano.

***

Sambrano found Sergio in the back of a patrol car and hugged him from the open door.

Sergio had a bandage on his arm from a deep gash he suffered after he put his hand through a window of the apartment.

“He was having an emotional breakdown,” Sambrano said. “What he had just seen was extremely traumatic.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Deputy, my sister, deputy, my sister,’” Sambrano said.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Sambrano responded. “We’re going to do what’s right. Trust us.”

Victim Yahaira Ocegueda Boykins, 23, was a mother of three. Photo from Ocegueda Boykins’ Facebook page

Recounting that horrible day in a recent interview, Sambrano said, “We’re trained to comfort members of the public as best as we can at a time of death and grief, but it’s that much more difficult when you have a relationship with someone.

“I think of these students outside of work. I think of them as my friends, my kids. That was the first thing I thought about when I saw him in the back seat.”

Sergio had become extremely angry when patrol deputies had told him to calm down.

“I told Sergio, ‘You know, you’re absolutely right. I’m here, and we’re going to get through this.’”

Sergio fluctuated between anger and calm.

“Deputy,” he asked Sambrano. “You’ve never dealt with anything like this either, right?”

“No, I haven’t.”

***

Sambrano stayed with Sergio for two, maybe three hours in the back of the patrol car, getting him water and snacks, until investigators were ready to interview the teenager. Then he stayed with Sergio throughout the interview.

Sambrano followed Sergio when he was taken by ambulance to Saddleback Memorial Hospital so doctors could sew up the gash in his arm.

And he stayed with Sergio until about 10:30 that night, leaving only after Sergio’s relatives arrived.

“I just wanted him to know I was with him and that nothing was going to happen to him,” Sambrano said. “I wanted to stay with him as long as I could.”

***

A sign in Sambrano’s office at Laguna Hills High reads, “When you feel like quitting, remember why you started.”

Sambrano had to put that mantra to use when he saw Sergio in the back of the patrol car the day Sergio’s sister was killed.

At one point during the conversation, Sergio told Sambrano: “This is my purpose. God put me on this Earth to raise my nephews.”

Recalls Sambrano: “He wanted to be the best uncle he could be and take care of his nephews. He wanted to quit school and stay at home and help raise them.”

The deputy, however, knew where Sergio belonged.

“Dude,” he told Sergio, “school is where you belong.”

An award sits in the office of OCSD Deputy Anthony Sambrano that reads, “Thank you for your service and dedication to the Saddleback Valley Unified School District.”
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

He told Sergio he needed to be a positive role model for his nephews and stay in school and go to college and become a chef.

Sergio came around, and after taking a week off from school he returned sporadically.

Since October, he has been in school full time and doing well.

Sambrano attended Ocegueda Boykins’ funeral at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Laguna Hills.

He stood in the back so he wouldn’t stand out.

Sambrano, who is married with no children, spent the entire weekend with his wife to begin decompressing from the trauma of those days.

“I was emotionally drained,” he said.

He also reached out to his parents, and several OCSD personnel reached out to him to walk him through the event and perk him up.

***

Although he will be scarred for life, Sergio is doing as well as can be expected less than three months after his sister’s murder.

“He loves her kids so much,” Sambrano says, apologizing for a moustache he grew for the Movember campaign to raise health awareness among men. “In his heart, I know that’s where he wants to be, helping his mother.”

Jerel Boykins, who was arrested shortly after the slaying, was charged with murder on Sept. 18. If convicted, he faces 50 years to life in prison.

The North Carolina native is being held at Orange County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.

His next scheduled court appearance is Dec. 8.

Sambrano is happy that Sergio has gotten back to his school routine.

“I told him, ‘This is your place. You belong in school,” Sambrano said. “‘That’s how you’re going to raise these kids. They’re going to know their uncle continued pressing on through school to achieve his career goals.’”

Every school resource officer knows their main job is keeping their kids safe, Sambrano said.

“But we also know that building relationships with students is paramount,” the deputy said. “Because when there’s a crisis, those kids will trust you and come to you. And that’s what I’m here for.”

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC