Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Dressed in a pint-sized Metro Police uniform, complete with a downsized duty belt hugging his waist, 4-year-old Jon’tel Thomas beamed as he emerged from a room — a perfect fit for the monumental surprise.
Jon’tel pretending to be a cop or superhero at home is not unusual, his mother would later say.
But his role Friday morning at a northwest valley police academy, a treat from the Southern Nevada chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Metro, was likely more than he’d imagined. Perhaps way more.
Officers, fellow academy cadets, and his parents and siblings would soon burst into cheers as he deftly dashed through an obstacle course. They would clap when he received a certificate. They would witness the boy clearing a helicopter for landing, and later boarding it. They’d stand by his side as he became an honorary Metro officer — surely an hour and a half they will never forget.
Jon’tel has sickle cell disease, a disorder of the blood cells that leaves sufferers with frequent bouts of pain and fatigue, and a heightened susceptibility to infection.
He knew a surprise was coming, said his mother, Shannon Wilson, but didn’t know what it entailed. So he was up at 5:30 a.m., eagerly asking about it.
Friday saw a boy and his family momentarily forget about the disease and its destruction. It was all smiles.
“I think this is great — my son is a fighter,” she said. “The strength that it takes for a kid to smile from the pain, the crises that they have, and to continue. We tell them a lot that they are superheroes to be able to go through those things,” Wilson said.
Jon’tel and his family are familiar with pain and hospital visits, and Wilson knows the ache of losing a child, an anniversary the family observed this month.
Dae’jon Meadows, who also was bedeviled with the disease, died nine years ago at age 6, she said.
“With him,” she said, referring to Jon’tel, “he gave me the strength to know that I can fight it again. He’s a fighter just like his older brother was.”
For now, young Jon’tel wants to be a real officer one day, which would please his mother.
“He likes to keep his family safe,” Wilson said. “He’s very overprotective of us and I support him 100 percent whatever he wants to do. I’m glad if that’s something that he chooses to do.”
The surprise visit started with introductions to officers.
“Are you ready to join our class,” a Metro sergeant asked Jon’tel after he changed into his uniform. “OK, follow me, sir.”
In a large classroom, dozens of cadets roared back orders and stood at attention as the boy entered. A seat with a name tag awaited him.
“We’re so excited to have you here with us at the academy, now as an official recruit,” said another sergeant, “but we have to get one thing out of the way to make you an honorary recruit and graduate.”
An obstacle course.
“Ready to have some fun?” asked the sergeant, who carried the boy from his seat and then held his hand as they walked outside with dozens of recruits in tow.
Jon’tel nimbly ran around cones, crawled under bars, smashed a dummy with a baton and ran through the yellow police-tape finish line all while everyone hollered.
Then the Metro chopper droned above, the boy’s tiny head tracking it as it circled the academy, waiting for permission to land.
Through a radio, the boy hesitantly gave the OK.
It descended on a grassy field, its two occupants walking toward the boy for an introduction.
“Thanks for clearing us to land,” one said. “I like your uniform,” the boy heard. “You’re looking sharp, you’re looking very good.”
So the boy and his brothers boarded the helicopter as a pilot explained how it operated. A group photo was taken, with Jon’tel front and center. He would later play with a police dog, board a motorcycle and a SWAT-armored vehicle, and ride with an officer in her cruiser.
Wilson thanked everyone involved. “We need that in our life," noting that "for him to continue to smile and spread his joy and his love between everybody he comes in (contact with), he's his own superhero."
Then the rotor spun again, kicking up debris into Jon’tel’s bushy hair as the helicopter ascended. His mother caressed his head as the boy waved at the departing aircraft.