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A 9-year-old boy was having a bad day, and an even worse birthday, until an alert Grand Rapids police officer came to the rescue.
“I was finishing a call,” said officer Austin Lynema, “and saw Thomas running down the sidewalk trying to catch up to his bus, crying.”
Austin Lynema, age 22, and only 6 months on the job, stopped to ask Thomas Daniel if he needed help.
“When I pulled up next to him, he just kind of stopped and looked at me,” said Lynema. “I asked him if he needed help and he just kind of shook his head.”
He was nervous when Lynema first approached him. In a child’s whisper, Thomas said he was upset “‘cause I missed the school bus and I really want to go to school and do my work and have fun.” Thomas said he was a straight-A student and had never missed a day of school.
On that late February day, Lynema discovered Thomas was worried for another reason: It was his birthday.
“Thomas confided in me that he didn’t think that anybody else would show up to his birthday party” said Lynema, “because he was being bullied at school.”
Thomas, along with his mother and brother recently immigrated to Grand Rapids from Tanzania.
Lynema and his partner decided to surprise Thomas by attending his party.
“I ring the doorbell and he comes out of his balcony and sees me and my partner,” said Lynema. “He’s jumping up and down, smiles and he can’t believe that we actually were able to show up.”
But no one else did.
No friends, no presents, no cake; so Lynema and several of his colleagues went the extra mile – surprising Thomas with a birthday party the next morning.
“I was able to get permission to get Krispy Kreme Doughnuts for him – personalized ‘Happy birthday,’” Lynema said. Another gift: a bag of Grand Rapids Police swag. “We weren’t going to let a nine year old not have a party,” he said.
Beyond the Call of Duty
The story made the local news and has had heartwarming results.
Lynema has now received cards and gifts for Thomas from as far away as California.
Recently, Thomas is getting on better at school. He’s been invited to a classmate’s party and Lynema is attending with him.
Thomas has also been inspired to become a police officer. “I really want to be a police really bad,” Thomas said.
Lynema, whose father is a firefighter, is driven by a strong sense of public service, but his friendship with Thomas has surprised him.
“As an officer, you meet thousands of people and half the time you don’t ever see these people again,” Lynema said. “But I’m glad that I get to see Thomas again and again.”
CNN’s Aaron Cooper contributed to this report.