She may not be old enough to drive a car alone, but Yarely Solize knows how to handle a gun and protect herself if she is in danger.
With protective glasses covering her eyes, the petite 15-year-old wrapped her manicured fingers around a gun and pointed at her target.
With the tiniest flinch, she shot straight at the target’s chest, sending the casing to the floor and causing a loud blast. A blue dot of paint splattered across the target in front of her.
“You feel like you have power and control,” said Yarely, one of more than 60 teenagers taking part in shooting training with the Broward Sheriff’s Office Police Explorer program Tuesday at the former South Florida State Hospital in Pembroke Pines.
As a little girl, Yarely dreamed of being in the FBI after watching movies and TV shows including CSI, Bones and Criminal Minds.
“I knew that that was what I wanted to do when I got older,” she said. “It’s very exciting.”
Yarely and dozens of other teens are getting a head start on a law enforcement career by becoming Explorers. The voluntary program offers discipline, instruction and direction through volunteer work, ride-alongs and hands-on training.
On Tuesday, the group trained with BSO SWAT members on how to handle live-shooter situations including clearing rooms, loading guns and hitting targets. They trained in the same place and used some of the same gear — including the practice Glock guns that shoot bullets with paint inside — that the BSO’s SWAT team uses.
“We try to make it as real as possible,” said Deputy Mike Brady, who helped the teens wrap their hands properly and showed them how to load a magazine into the gun.
The dark hallways of the old mental institution lead the officers — and the Explorers — to rooms where they can practice entering and shooting. The walls are painted with colorful splatters left by practice shots.
The teens enrolled in BSO’s Explorer program are spending the week getting intensive training with different areas of law enforcement. Later in the week they’ll visit a jail and a federal courthouse.
Broward has nine Explorer posts with nearly 200 teens. Deputy Darren Holewinski, a senior advisor, said the teens who go through the program have a better chance of getting hired when they are old enough.
“These kids are 100 percent our future,” he said. “They are the ones who will replace me and the other officers when we retire.”
For Darren Holewinski’s daughter, Alexandra, the Explorer program has taught her a lot about herself and what she is capable of doing. When she started four years ago, she did so because her dad wanted her to.
“I was kind of pushed into it,” the 18-year-old said.
The then-aspiring lawyer did not envision herself a cop. But after a few months she quickly learned to love the profession. She realized she could do anything a boy could do, and now has her sights on the FBI.
“It wasn’t always easy,” she said. “Boys don’t always think that girls can do the same things.”
Now, as captain, she said it’s a great feeling leading both boys and girls.
Karla Iannicelli, 18, agreed, saying it was hard in the beginning to get others to understand her choice of becoming an Explorer.
“It’s not something people expect girls to do,” said Iannicelli, now the captain of her post.
“We all have one goal, she said. “We want to help people.”