LAKELAND, Fla. (WTSP) -- A Lakeland police officer is being praised, not for what he did on duty, but for what he did in his own time.
After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Officer Javier Perez took time off from work. He flew to the island to check on his family and ended up helping dozens of others while he was there.
Perez hadn't heard from his mom and dad in days. Because he's a law enforcement officer, he was able to catch one of the first flights from Florida to Puerto Rico after the storm. He made it to his parents' home in Cidra, a small town in the center of the island.
“Luckily my parents showed up about 20 minutes later. They were okay. They were fine,” he said in a video posted to the Lakeland Police Department’s Facebook page. “My mom was shocked and happy to see me. It just gets me teared up.”
He posted in a Facebook group for people trying to find relatives in the same town, Cidra. People from all over the U.S. reached out to him asking for help, including Angel Torres in New York, who hadn’t heard from his 13-year-old daughter.
“It was like literally you having your hands tied up. You can't do nothing,” Torres said.
He couldn't get a flight to the island, so he had to ask a total stranger for help. Officer Perez agreed.
Within a few days, Torres received a video message from his daughter.
“We're OK here,” his daughter told him in Spanish.
“She looked happy and everything,” Torres said. “I was so surprised.”
During his time on the island, Perez helped around a dozen families track down loved ones.
“I know there was not even gas," Torres said. "There was not even water. No food, and he took his time to go do a favor to somebody that he doesn't even know.
“It really means a lot to me. A lot. Like, a lot.”
Perez is back in Puerto Rico now. This time, he’s able to focus on his family and help get them back on their feet.
Torres said he's going on vacation to Orlando next summer. He's hoping to meet and thank Perez in person on that trip.