Five-year-old Nathan Norman had one Christmas wish: cards from his heroes, police and firefighters. The little boy, who lives in Virginia, is suffering from brain and spine cancer, and in September, his family learned that his tumors were growing.
At first, the cards came 15 to 20 at a time. But as his request spread on social media, the response got bigger and bigger.
“He just had a very simple wish,” said Burlington Police Sergeant Gerard McDonough. “We thought we could take his simple request and do one better.”
Early this month, McDonough began organizing a trip down to Virginia to hand deliver Christmas cards. On Wednesday morning, agencies from Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, including Wellesley Police - joined the convoy of more than 80 agencies headed from Burlington, Mass, to Nathan's home in Rustberg, VA.
“I’ve been a policeman 25 years, and I was overwhelmed by what I saw,” said Burlington Police Officer Jim Tigges, who watched the cruisers depart before sunup.
“It was still dark out, their lights were going. It was just one line of blue.”
In September, when doctors found tumors on Nathan’s spine, said McDonough, Nathan's family tried to cheer him up by starting Christmas early, and turning on all their Christmas lights. So, McDonough said, he decided that the trip to visit him should be made by cruiser, not bus.
“Our blue lights are kind of like our Christmas lights,” said McDonough. “The initial event was to light up his neighborhood in front of his house with our Christmas lights.”
Each agency is bringing a card, plus police pins, t-shirts, department coins and badges. Officers from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire have joined. Even the Los Angeles Police Department sent an officer, said McDonough. Agencies that couldn’t make the trip sent cards and gifts.
Many have made monetary donations to Nathan’s family, said McDonough – and the family is using that money to deliver care packages to other sick children.
“They’re a really good family,” said McDonough. “I think they’re a family of really strong faith.”
The caravan rolled through Newtown on its trip to Virginia, said McDonough. Originally, they wanted to stop and pay their respects, he said, but the town is overwhelmed. So officers tied white ribbons to their cruiser antennas, and put the bumper stickers that the Patriots wore on their cruisers, and drove through.
The plan, said McDonough, when they get to Virginia, is to visit with the family on Thursday. They have so many cruisers, he said, that they may not all fit on his street, so they are considering visiting at a local college.
McDonough is a father himself, and many of the officers headed to Rustubrg are parents.
“Because he had a very simple request, it hits you, I think, as parents,” he said. “I think the goal is to give Nathan and his family a happy memory and a reason to smile. They have a long road ahead of them. It may be hard to find a reason to smile in the future.”
You can watch the livestream of their journey, as more than 200 officers in 93 police cars make the 12-hour trip. On Thursday, the livestream will broadcast the visit to Nathan’s house.
You can follow the officers from Wellesley on Twitter at @WPDPhoto, or look for the hashtag #Cards4Nathan to get updates from all the agencies.
There will be a big surprise from Wellesley Police Chief Cunningham once the trip is over, according to Wellesley police.
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org