AMESBURY, Mass. -- A handful of local police officers joined forces this week with law enforcement from across New England to help make a dying boy’s wish come true.
Officers from Merrimac, Amesbury, Salisbury and across the region set out early yesterday morning by convoy bound for Virginia to visit 5-year-old Nathan Norman, who has terminal brain cancer. They were expected to arrive in Virginia last night and spend today visiting with Nathan.
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The convoy included Amesbury officers Craig Lesage and Jon Morrill, Salisbury officers Jim Leavitt and Mike Tullercash, Merrimac officers Richard Holcroft and Rob Coppola as well as officers from Groveland, Haverhill, Methuen, North Andover, Beverly, Marblehead; Hampton and Portsmouth, N.H., and the Essex County Sheriff’s Department.
Nathan was diagnosed in January 2009 with low-grade astrocytoma, a form of brain cancer most commonly found in children and young adults. He has endured multiple surgeries since then to attempt to slow the cancer’s progression, but with limited success.
The young boy’s Christmas wish this year was to receive cards from police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians from across the country — who he considers his heroes.
Word of Nathan’s wish spread quickly through law enforcement circles. After the Virginia State Police started notifying departments in other states, cards started pouring in.
When Sgt. Jerry McDonough of the Burlington Police Department heard about Nathan’s request, he decided to take things a step further. McDonough began organizing a convoy of officers to make the drive to Rustburg, Va., so they could personally deliver the cards and letters from Massachusetts to Nathan.
Yesterday morning, a week after preparations had begun, a convoy of more than 90 police cruisers carrying 250 officers from 78 New England police departments left the Burlington Mall for the 11-hour drive to Rustburg, with sirens blaring along the way.
“The logistics behind it were incredible,” Coppola said from the road yesterday. “It was incredible to put this kind of plan together and get it done. Every state we went through, we got escorts from the state police; they’ve been on the side of the road saluting us.”
Merrimac Police Chief Eric Shears said when he relayed Nathan’s story to his department, he had no shortage of volunteers willing to take the ride.
“We had to draw names from hats, because we had so many people who wanted to be a part of this,” Shears said.
Coppola said he and Holcroft felt lucky to be representing the Merrimac department on the trip, They did so on volunteer time and all of the fuel and toll expenses were paid for by the Merrimac Police Association, Shears said.
Throughout their trip down, the police live tweeted their journey using the hashtag #CardsForNathan, posting photos of their progress along the way. Some departments, including the officers from Wellesley, set up a live stream from inside their cruiser.
When the convoy passed through Newtown, Conn., at around 10 a.m. yesterday, the cruisers flew green and white ribbons in support of Sandy Hook Elementary School and the community as a whole.
Coppola said the fact so many officers got together to make such a long drive speaks volumes about the brotherhood between policemen everywhere and the respect they have for children like Nathan.
“He’s a true hero for us,” Coppola said. “His will to survive is just incredible, and that’s what we do it for. We look up to him, because it’s such an incredible thing for him to be going through something so traumatic. He’s definitely the hero in all this.”