"My reaction was just to giggle it off because if I hadn't, I would have cried like a baby," Emily Leehan tells PEOPLE of her stepson's tearful response to her vows

By Jason Duaine Hahn
July 25, 2017 04:04 PM

After a video showing bride Emily Leehan reading vows to her groom’s weeping 4-year-old son went viral, the couple is opening up about their special little boy who made viewers everywhere reach for the tissues.

“I definitely didn’t expect him to react the way he did,” Leehan tells PEOPLE. “My reaction was just to giggle it off because if I hadn’t, I would have cried like a baby and I wouldn’t have been able to get it all out. It couldn’t have been any better than how it went.”

Senior Airman Leehan met Sgt. Joshua Newville at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Trenton, New Jersey. They dated for about three years before Newville asked Leehan to marry him on July 18, 2016.

Throughout their years together, Leehan grew close to Newville’s 4-year-old son, Gage, and she says she immediately began thinking of how she could incorporate Gage into their wedding ceremony once she got engaged. Reciting vows to him seemed like the perfect way to do it, and when she told Newville about the plan, he said it was a great idea. But, he didn’t want to read her vows before the wedding—he wanted to keep it a surprise for Gage, and for himself.

Credit: Courtesy Emily Newville

The big moment came on July 22 while the couple stood at the altar at Quincy Cellar in Ripley, New York. As the viral video shows, Gage stood in between the couple while Leehan recited her vows. As she lovingly told Gage that she wanted him to be safe and to be a good person, Gage began to weep. Both Newville and Leehan say they were not expecting Gage’s emotional reaction at all.

“I was trying not to lose it more than I already had—I think I was tearing up before the vows even started, just because of the emotion of the day—then when I saw Gage tear up, I was trying not to tear up with him,” Newville tells PEOPLE.

Credit: Jessica Husted Photography

But Leehan found the composure to carry on (well, Gage had cried enough for the both of them), and the emotional moment became one of the many highlights of the weekend wedding. Friends and family told them that the moment was one of the most emotionally genuine things they had ever seen—it had made the day.

Gage, however, was looking forward to something else. “He was excited because the wedding was over and he was one step closer to eating some cake,” Newville says, laughing. “I was just really trying to keep him in his tux that way we can take some pictures and then he can go ruin it.”

The 4-year-old “danced his little tail off” at the reception, where he made an entrance to Darth Vader’s theme music while wearing a mask of the character.

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The couple says that while Gage isn’t usually emotional to the extent he was at the wedding, he does usually express concern when he hears about “sad things.” Gage is a big fan of Star Wars and superheroes movies, Newville says, and when asked what his favorite superhero is, Gage shouts, “Spider-Man and Batman… and Paw Patrol!”

Newville adds that what really helped bring the day together was the support of Gage’s biological mother, Kali Nuckols. The couple have returned to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and they are thinking of going on a honeymoon sometime next year after they save some money. But as young Gage showed, sometimes life’s most precious and spontaneous moments come for free.