Bullied Illinois 11-Year-Old Surprised by Police, Firefighters and Mayor at Birthday Party: 'He Is Glowing,' Says Mom
"This is one of the best things I've been a part of in my long time as an officer," Detective Mike Eeten tells PEOPLE
Just like most 11 year olds, Braden Garnett wants to celebrate his birthday with friends.
But the Pekin, Illinois, native – who has Asperger’s, strabismus (a misalignment of the eyes) and dyslexia – has been bullied because of his conditions.
“Braden only has the same two kids show up for his parties every year. This year, we invited 36 boys, but as of the day before, only three had RSVP’d,” his mother, Carrie Garnett, tells PEOPLE.
So Carrie decided to take matters into her own hands to make sure her son’s birthday dreams came true.
She reached out to the Pekin Police Department to ask if one or two officers would surprise Braden at his paintball party on Sunday. “He loves anyone in uniform – police, fire, military!” Carrie shares.
“Much to our amazement, we had a fire truck show up with four or five firefighters, at least 10 police officers, the police chief and the Mayor of Pekin,” Carris says.
Detective Mike Eeten from the Pekin Police Department received Carrie’s initial email.
“She said her son is sometimes bullied and has some not very nice things said to him,” Eeten tells PEOPLE. “We thought, ‘We’ve got to do something to help this kid.’ He’s just the sweetest kid.”
Moved by Braden’s story, the police officers decided to not only attend the party on Sunday, but to pool some money for gifts and bring some of their own kids along, too. News quickly spread and some firemen jumped on board as well.
Braden’s mother dropped hints of a special birthday surprise to her son. But when the day of his party came around, nothing could have prepared Braden for the arrival of police officers, fire fighters, some new friends and Mayor John McCabe. Not only did they come ready to play some paintball, but they brought presents, too, including a police station Lego set. A K9 officer even brought his dog, Ahen, for the kids to meet.
Braden kept repeating the phrase, “I’m breathless,” in response to his surprise guests.
“Perkin has the most amazing police and fire to do this for my little guy,” Carrie says.
For Eeten, the birthday party was meaningful in defining the role of a police officer.
“It was fun to see the kids of the officers interacting with Braden and for them to see that this is something important. Mom and dad as officers do more than arrest people – they do something for the community.”
The following day, Braden came to the police station with treats for the officers as a thank you, saying, “You guys were so sweet to me, I wanted to do something sweet for you.”
In return, Braden received a tour of the police and fire station, as well as some dinner invitations.
“This is one of the best things I’ve been a part of in my long time as an officer,” Eeten tells PEOPLE.
And Braden’s birthday party has gained a bit of fame and recognition, particularly from students at his school.
“This entire experience has made a big difference socially, too,” says Carrie. “Now that all the kids and staff at the school have seen the videos of it, they are giving him some positive attention that he is handling wonderfully. He is absolutely glowing from it all.”