With 17-year-old Sydney Johansson’s final year of high school just around the corner, she, her mom, Laura Johansson, and their longtime family photographer, Jessica Vallia, were excited to take the perfect senior photos at a beautiful park in their Colorado Springs hometown.
But a sudden downpour put a damper on the trio’s plans. Sydney, who is deaf and suffers from cerebral palsy and seizures, uses a feeding tube and a wheelchair. With a surgery scheduled for the following week, Laura, 42, says she knew the photos would have to happen on that rainy Sunday on July 15.
“We needed to get the pictures done before the surgery,” Laura tells PEOPLE. “I was very nervous that we’d have to cancel. [I was] pretty upset since I knew we were running out of time. It was pouring, pouring rain.”
With the rain pouring, Laura, Sydney and Vallia sat in the car wondering what they’d do. Suddenly, Laura and Vallia, 37, decided to go to a nearby Starbucks with hopes that staff would let them take photos of Sydney in the coffee shop. There they met 20-year-old Christian Lopez who agreed to the photo shoot. But the supervisor took his kindness a step further, lending his umbrella and helping the women unload their car.
“It was incredible. He was almost like our knight in shining armor. I couldn’t believe how nice this kid was,” Laura says. “He had gotten Sydney a towel, they dried her off. And he was making all of us hot chocolate! He made it with soy milk because he was worried someone might have allergies.”
There were about three customers at the Starbucks in Fountain, and about three employees, Vallia says. And everyone joined in to help, making colorful signs for Sydney and even providing a curtain to use as a backdrop.
“Sydney was so happy with all of the attention. She loves people. She was looking forward and smiling and giggling the entire time,” Vallia tells PEOPLE of the shoot. “It could not have turned out more perfect.”
Photos from the shoot showed Sydney smiling wide in a Dirty Dancing t-shirt, a tutu and sneakers. Vallia says she couldn’t help but share the photos — and the sweet story — on Facebook. The post has been shared more than 6,000 times.
“There were serious tears from all after taking in everything from yesterday’s senior session,” Vallia wrote in the post. “I just wanted her to have the average senior session, like any other girl and instead she got THE RED CARPET in a way I couldn’t have been more proud to be a part of!!!”
As for Sydney, Laura says the high schooler has loved the attention from the viral photos.
“I showed her herself on the news … she recognized herself. And she knows she was on TV and that it was really cool,” Laura says. “She knows it’s a huge positive thing, something really cool and awesome that happened to her.”
Laura and Vallia say they are grateful for Lopez’s kindness.