By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
MIDWEST CITY, Okla.— On a recent afternoon, Veronica Aviles turned her wheelchair into the Crime Analysis Division of the Midwest City Police Department.
Officers greeted their department intern with appreciative grins as she powered her chair into position at a desk that held computers.
Aviles, a 2009 graduate of Bishop Dunne Catholic School who attended St. Mary of Carmel Catholic School, smiled at her colleagues as she prepared to research crime activity.
The scene gained some of the sizzle of a CSI-themed TV series when Aviles accessed specialized software by nudging a computer mouse to just the right spot. Bursts of color enlivened her computer screen, mapping crimes by concentration in the city of 56,000.
“The internship has allowed me to see how everything works at each level in the justice system,” said Aviles, who has a form of muscular dystrophy and has used a wheelchair since age 5. “I like seeing how it all comes together. I’ve learned that I can do a little bit of everything.”
And evidence has mounted that Aviles, with her skills and upbeat attitude, can be a game-changer in any environment, her supervisors at police headquarters said.
Her internship is part of the final semester of studies for Aviles, who will graduate from the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond with concurrent degrees in criminal justice and forensic science on May 10.
She credited her Dallas diocesan Catholic schools with preparing her to earn the college degrees that she hopes will lead to a Dallas-area position in her field.
“I think she’s a bright star,” Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes said. “Veronica is my hero. She’s made a difference in my life. She really has been the one who has taught us.”
Chief Clabes, who has a 14-year-old daughter with special needs, said that his department has had many interns but that Aviles is the first with a disability.
He said that Aviles participates in almost every aspect of the internship program except the “ride-alongs” to crime scenes, which often entail locations without wheelchair access.
Aviles, 23, has Emery-Dreifuss Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic condition characterized by weakening of the muscles of the shoulders, upper arms and lower legs, and by stiff joints in the elbows, neck and heels.
Her mother, Maria, said that she knew of no other instances of the disease in the family.
“Veronica has been independent, except for her mobility,” said Maria, who moved to UCO with her daughter and spent much of the past five years apart from their Grand Prairie home and her husband, Ronnie. “Veronica was a 1-year-old before she started to crawl. She had a number of tests. We didn’t get the specific diagnosis of what type of muscular dystrophy it was until she was 14.
“The biggest challenge is that we don’t know what to expect. Our faith has really helped us. Each day is a gift from God.”
Strong Catholic family
Maria and Ronnie are St. Mary of Carmel parishioners who also attended the school, where family members have taught and served for generations. Ronnie is a member of the parish’s music ministry.
Ronnie, who works in the banking industry, said that the family adjusted to the separation when his wife and daughter moved to Edmond. He and Maria also have two sons, Oliver, 28, and Rey, 20.
Aviles and her mother share an apartment near the UCO campus. Maria works part-time for the university’s Disability Support Services.
“We speak on the phone every day, and I drive the three-and-a-half hours to Edmond fairly often,” Ronnie said. “Being apart has been different, but having a big extended family in Dallas has helped.”
Aviles said that her Catholic schools supported her and encouraged her career dream.
St. Mary of Carmel added wheelchair ramps when Aviles enrolled there. Bishop Dunne provided special tables where student desks could not accommodate Aviles’ wheelchair.
Both schools provided ample guest speakers from the justice system and field trips to Dallas’ criminal justice facilities, Aviles said.
She said that she always will recall the guidance that she received from Bishop Dunne theology teacher Jim Martin, the school’s director of campus ministries.
Martin said that Aviles’ determination inspired the Bishop Dunne community.
“She made sure to be a part of whatever her classmates were doing and did not let her wheelchair be any sort of obstacle,” Martin said. “Veronica’s spirit enabled her to be an inspiration to all who took the time to get to know her. It was evident from early on in high school that she would go far with her gifts and talents.”
The right college
Aviles said that she decided to attend UCO because of its forensics program and its facilities’ exceptional access for those with special needs.
“When I visited the campus, I could really see myself there,” Aviles said. “The time has gone by pretty fast, but I’m excited to be finishing.”
She said that she prefers to focus on her blessings, though she has experienced periods of increasing physical weakness at points over the years.
“I’m just really lucky,” she said. “Not everyone gets to graduate from college. I feel blessed to have had so many good opportunities.”
Janice Walker, who works in the Midwest City Police Department’s Records Division, said that Aviles has brightened the workplace.
“Everybody just loves her and is very encouraged by her,” Walker said. “She’s a jewel.”
Midwest City Police Department Crime Analyst Sue Stager said that Aviles has demonstrated proficiency.
“Veronica is really good with statistics and research,” Stager said. “My job is something that she would be wonderful at doing. She’s always cheerful and always smiling. We fuss over her, but we don’t pamper her.”
Maria said that God has buttressed the family with His gifts.
“We have had a lot of angels by our side,” she said. “Just growing up Catholic has helped us to be strong. That’s our foundation.”