The teen, who intends to study criminal justice, was feted in a ceremony outside Albuquerque's police academy on Thursday for his honesty.
It would've only taken an instant for Jose Nuñez Romaniz to turn his and his family's life around. All he had to do was quietly walk away with the unexpected windfall that he'd stumbled upon and never look back. Instead, he chose to practice what his hardworking parents have always taught him: Earn your money. The 19-year-old displayed incredible strength of character and integrity this week when he discovered a clear plastic bag with $135K on the ground next to an ATM machine. While most in his position would've kept the money for themselves, Nuñez never even considered that possibility and instead contacted the police.
According to CNN, Nuñez was on a mission to buy socks for his grandfather when he came across the money. After his grandfather had trouble finding the right pair in stores, the teen helped him find it online. However, he needed to deposit money into his bank account to make the online purchase for which he drove to a Wells Fargo bank branch just two minutes from his Albuquerque home on Sunday morning. As he pulled up next to the ATM machine outside the bank, he spotted a clear plastic bag on the ground next to it.
It was a "foot-long stack" of $50 and $20 bills, said Nuñez. "I didn't know what to do. I was, like, dreaming. I was just in shock. I was looking at myself and just thinking, 'What should I do?'" the teen explained. Not even for a moment did he consider keeping the money. Instead, his mind was buzzing with all sorts of wild thoughts: Was this some kind of trap? Was someone about to pull up behind him and kidnap him? Nuñez then did the responsible thing of calling the Albuquerque police and when two officers arrived at the scene, he handed over the bag of money.
Back at the station the officers counted the stack of bills and found that the teen had just handed over a total of $135,000. Officer Simon Drobik—a spokesman for the Albuquerque police— revealed that upon investigation, they determined that the money was mistakenly left outside the ATM by a bank subcontractor who was supposed to supply the machine with cash. "This money could have made an incredible amount of difference in his life if he went down the other path, but he chose... the integrity path and did the right thing," said Drobik.
An #ABQ teen was recognized today for doing the right thing when no one was looking. He found $135K in cash and turned it in! https://t.co/nkm1t5QF9y @krqe @ABQPOLICE— Gabrielle Burkhart (@gburkNM) May 7, 2020
For Nuñez, however, there was never even a question of keeping the money. Although his family comes from "humble beginnings" and no one in his family has ever seen that kind of money, the teen revealed that he kept hearing his parents' lessons as he waited for the police to arrive. "My parents always taught me to work for my own. Stolen money would never last you any time," he recalled his mother and father teaching him. For Nuñez—a college student who lives at home and helps his parents take care of his two younger siblings—his mother's voice has always been an unignorable guiding force leading him down the right path.
Jose Nunez Romaniz said his family is the reason he returned the money.— KOB 4 (@KOB4) May 7, 2020
"In the back of my head, I was just thinking about my parents, especially my mom, what she would do if I came home with the money, what she would do with her chancla to hit me." https://t.co/OswhmU3pni
"I had my mom's voice and her 'chancla' in the back of my head," he said. The "chancla" referred to here is a part-real, part-humorous threat of a flip-flop spanking to keep children on their best behavior. His parents, Carmen Romaniz and Jose Nunez Juarez—who immigrated from Mexico in the late 1990s—have always taught the importance of hard work by example to their kids. After working in farm fields picking onions, being a dishwasher, a cook, and even trying their luck in construction, they now operate a small mattress sales business. Nuñez, who just finished his first collegiate year, has always dreamt of working as a crime scene investigator.
He revealed that he'd called his mother right after he contacted police Sunday and that Albuquerque police officers had personally visited his parents and praised his honesty. "She told me I did the right thing and that she was proud of me," Nuñez said. "She called me and almost started crying." City officials feted the teen in a ceremony outside Albuquerque's police academy on Thursday where the police chief presented him with a plaque and invited the Central New Mexico Community College student to apply for a job as a public service aide at the police department.
Nuñez, who intends to study criminal justice, also received some signed sports memorabilia and six season tickets for UNM football from the Albuquerque ESPN Radio 101.7 FM. Station president Joe O'Neill, who heard about the teen's actions from a police acquaintance, revealed that the radio station gave him a football autographed by former NFL and University of New Mexico linebacker Brian Urlacher. Moreover, at least three local businesses have presented Nuñez with $500 each, with one of them throwing in a $100 gift card as well. "It's the coolest story... it's unbelievable what the kid did," said O'Neill.