Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photo

Belen Councilor Frank Ortega and Mayor Robert Noblin work together to hoist a new flag, donated by the Los Lunas High School NJROTC, to the Belen Veterans Memorial, after the flag was stolen Friday morning.

BELEN— With the help from an anonymous tip, three flags stolen at Eagle Park early Friday morning were recovered and six juveniles are facing charges for their role in the incident.

Belen Police Chief James Harris said officers received a report mid-morning on Friday that three flags were stolen — one in front of the Belen Community Center, another at the Veteran’s Information Center and the third from the Veterans Memorial.

The incident at the Veterans Memorial was captured on the city’s surveillance video, but it was too far away to identify the people.

“On Saturday morning, I put out a post (about the theft) on Facebook, and the mayor (Robert Noblin) said he would be willing to put up a $250 reward,” Harris said. “So, I went ahead and added another $100.”

The chief said a few hours later, they received an anonymous tip that there were some people posting about the stolen flags on another social media platform, Snapchat.

“We got copies of all those posts, and one of them indicated that these individuals had been pulled over on Friday evening while driving a vehicle that was one of their grandmother’s, and was taken without permission,” Harris said. “I did some research and found out who the sheriff’s deputy was who pulled them over. I got all the names of the individuals who had been in that vehicle.”

The chief was able to identify all six juveniles — four girls and two boys ranging in ages from 14-16 years old from Belen and Los Lunas. He made contact with them was able to recover the three flags.

“I have interviewed all by one of the individuals, and I have one coming in (Wednesday),” he said. “I’m going to be filing charges; I’ve already spoken to the district attorney.”

During the investigation, the chief said he learned the teenagers also climbed over the wall at the outdoor swimming pool at Belen High School, and threw some furniture into the pool.


Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photo

Charles Cox, the commander of the Chavez-Curran VFW Post 2387, and other post members, presented a $300 check to city to help with replacing the stolen flags.

Harris said he will be charging all six with larceny, criminal trespass and vandalism — all misdemeanors. The chief said while he doesn’t know how the teenagers will be punished by juvenile probation, he is going to request that they be required to write letters of apology to the veterans of Valencia County and present them at a Belen City Council meeting.

Harris said the four of the five teenagers who he talked to about the incident were remorseful for their actions, but one “really didn’t seem to have a care in the world about it.”

The police chief said while the teens said they were out just “trying to have fun,” he doesn’t understand the why they did it in the first place.

“Their motivation is irrelevant; it’s the disrespect they showed to the flag that I have a problem with,” Harris said. “Too many people have died for these people’s rights that they take for granted.”

While Noblin is disheartened with what happened to the flags, he said he’s hopeful because the community came together.

“I think, in a way it needed to happen to show the community that we can come together to face the issues of crime in Belen,” Noblin said. “For those who did this, maybe we’ll instill in them a better sense of community and pride in our city and in our country. Hopefully, they’ll understand what sacrifices our veterans have made.”

The mayor also wants the community to know that he and the city councilors are fed up with crime in Belen, and hopes that this incident shows them that they can reach out to police anonymously and help “stamp out crime in Belen.”

The person who alerted police to the teenagers has donated the reward money back to the Veterans Memorial. During Monday’s council meeting, Charles Cox, the commander of the Chavez-Curran VFW Post 2387, and other post members, presented a $300 check to city to help with replacing the stolen flags.

The Los Lunas High School NJROTC also donated a new, larger flag to the Veterans Memorial, which was hoisted Tuesday morning.

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.