Fil-Am cop lauded for solving cold case murder while vacationing in PH
NEW YORK CITY —For their bravery, dedication and commitment to the citizens of New York, 27 of the city’s finest police officers, including a Filipino American, were honored with Centurion Awards last week at police headquarters here.
Police Officer Gavin Hormillosa, a Filipino American who has been serving the NYPD for 16 and a half years, was honored for “solving a cold case while on vacation in the Philippines.”
In an exclusive interview with INQUIRER.net, Hormillosa narrated his chilling encounter with Miguel Abarentos, the Filipino caregiver who fled to the Philippines after allegedly murdering his 87-year-old employer.
“In December 2012, a murder occurred in the 17th precinct, where the main suspect, an employee of the victim, fled to the Philippines,” recalled Hormillosa. “My supervisors, knowing that I frequent the Philippines to visit my parents, suggested that I be involved in the investigation.”
The NYPD’s special operations lieutenant and the lead detective wanted the Fil-Am cop to serve as a translator, guide and liaison to Philippine law enforcers. The original plan was for him to travel to the Philippines, locate the suspect and with local law enforcement, capture the suspect for extradition back to the United States.
In January 2013, Hormillosa was certified by the NYPD as a translator. That year, the NYPD and the Manhattan district attorney’s office worked to get federal and international arrest warrants for Abarentos.
For his part, Hormillosa asked the Philippine National Police to monitor the suspect’s travel movements, in case he leaves the Philippines on another overseas employment contract.
When Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) struck in November 2013, however, Abarentos was given up for dead. “But this did not make sense to me since the typhoon did not heavily strike the area which he was last known to have lived, which is Paniqui in Tarlac,” Hormillosa said.
Returning to the Philippines in 2014, he looked into the list of known persons killed or missing as a result of Typhoon Haiyan and did not find Abarentos’ name. Still, the case stalled in the court system for the next three years because there was no proof of life.
In January of last year, out of pure curiosity, Hormillosa searched Abarentos’ name on Facebook. As it turned out, the 29-year-old suspect was active on social media. Through public pictures and posts of the suspect’s friends and family, Hormillosa was able to track Abarentos down to Makati City, where the suspect was working for a construction company. After informing the lead detective of the discovery, the case began to move forward again.
When Hormillosa traveled back to the Philippines last April for a family occasion, he stayed at a hotel in Makati that faced a construction site. It happened to be Abarentos’ workplace.
“While waiting for my family members to arrive and my hotel room to be cleaned, I decided to ask a security guard some questions about the new Rockwell Center that was going up when I spotted a possible suspect walking across the street,” Hormillosa said. Knowing that he had no jurisdiction in the Philippines, he made no further move.
Upon returning to New York in May, he confirmed Abarentos’ location to NYPD detectives. On June 21, 2016, nearly four years after the murder, members of the National Bureau of Investigation in the Philippines captured Abarentos at the construction site. On Nov. 18, 2016, he was extradited to New York where he is on trial for second-degree murder.
According to news reports on the case, Thawerdas Sadhwani was killed in his Murray Hill home, where then 25-year-old Abarentos occasionally helped the elderly victim. Daily News described Sadhwani as “brutally beaten” and had “numerous lacerations to his face” and “dentures broken” from being “smashed over the head” with a lamp. There are footages of Abarentos entering and exiting the building on the day of the murder, according to prosecutors. Citing law enforcement sources, Daily News also reported that Abarentos allegedly snatched a pile of cash and credit cards, headed to an Internet cafe in Queens and confessed to the crime in a Facebook chat with a friend.
“My most memorable encounter was probably that incident in the Philippines. Seeing Abarentos [in person] and not being able to do anything about it, even though he was just a few feet or yards from where I was. And the look on his face when he walked into the precinct with handcuffs on, from JFK Airport. He did not know that we had been watching out for him for years as he tried to build a new life for himself and thought he almost got away with it. That by far has been the most memorable,” Hormillosa told INQUIRER.net.
When asked about the biggest misconception about NYC cops, he replied: “I think the biggest misconception, like in most fields, is that we are all the same—we are always looking to arrest someone or we are looking to ticket someone. Most of the time, we just want to be left alone. We are happy when nothing happens.
“Another is that we are tough guys and gals, and that we are machines—we have no feelings or empathy. Believe me, we do. We are also human. A lot of people forget that. People judge us individually when we do something great, but when one of us does something bad, we are judged as a whole.
“The common response is ‘see, that’s how cops are.’ This is the only profession in the world that has this misconception. And that is why I don’t encourage anyone who does not possess the mental toughness to be an officer, to join our ranks. Physical toughness can be achieved, people can work on it. But if you don’t have the mindset or the mental toughness for the job, this job is not for you.”
Hormillosa said his advice to budding policemen is to do the job correctly and to the best of their abilities, but to also find time to relax. “Most of all, this is just a job… they (the public) will not remember you for the millions of things you do right every day, but they will remember the one bad thing or mistake you do,” he told INQUIRER.net.
Though he enjoys working on the midnight shift, the newly awarded Fil-Am cop admits to occasionally fearing for his life. But he is unemotional about it.
“I generally don’t think of losing my life. I fear it, but I usually think of it as ‘if it is my time, then it’s my time and there’s nothing I can do about it.’ I can easily lose my life while sleeping or crossing the street, just as easily lose it in the middle of a car stop or shooting. But if it’s not my time, it’s not my time. I can’t dwell on it—if you do, you won’t be able to function,” he said.
Proud of NYPD’s capabilities, Hormillosa revealed his employer is one of the few that forward deploys and assigns officers internationally around the world. In this sense, the NYPD can rival some small armies. “We have an Air Force and a Navy, and if you commit a serious crime in NYC, believe me, we will find you no matter where you are,” he said.
Just the same, there is fulfillment in the NYPD’s daily grind. The best thing about being a cop, aside from the prospect of early retirement, according to Hormillosa, is being able to affect people in a positive way.
“From car accidents to crimes, every moment is an opportunity to have a positive effect on people’s quality of life and general wellbeing.
“Just sitting in a patrol car at a corner is at times enough to clear up traffic. No one blocks the intersection anymore. And traffic flows well. I always find that funny. Sometimes just saying ‘hello’ to people can lead to them telling you their whole life story [or] the look on kids’ faces when you let them play with the sirens or talk into the PA system.
“But nothing is more satisfying than catching a criminal after the commission of a crime. Things like that is what makes it worth it,” Hormillosa said.