By Jonathan Phelps
---- — It was a simple Christmas wish from a terminally ill 6-year-old boy more than 600 miles away that has caught the attention of many local police officers this holiday season.
While Nathan Norman from Rustburg, Va., was undergoing a round of chemotherapy in September, he made one simple Christmas wish — to receive cards and letters from police, firefighters and other emergency personnel. His heroes.
Several local officers have answered the call by joining a convoy of more than 200 officers in 100 police vehicles — representing about 80 departments — that left yesterday to travel to Virginia to hand deliver messages to him. They will bring cards, department patches, T-shirts and other gifts for Nathan and his three siblings.
Local departments represented in the convoy include Beverly, Salem, Peabody, Marblehead and Manchester-by-the-Sea.
“You have a little boy stricken with cancer and all he wants is cards from police and firefighters,” said Beverly police officer Erik Abrahamson of Nathan’s story. “It touched me and made me want to be involved.”
Nathan was diagnosed with astrocytoma, a type of brain cancer, in 2009. He has gone through multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, but the treatments will only stabilize tumors not rid the cancer, according to his family’s website.
Abrahamson and officer Michael Backstrom joined up with the convoy yesterday morning at the Burlington Mall to represent the Beverly Police Department in the trek.
“To only be 6-years-old and be diagnosed with terminal cancer that is just tragic,” Abrahamson said. “The fact that little Nathan looks up to police and firefighters as his heroes and if it makes his day for us to come and meet him face-to-face that is the least we can do.”
Abrahamson said he heard about Burlington Sgt. Gerard McDonough’s efforts to organize the convoy and wanted to get the Beverly Police Department involved. The two officers have donated their time, while donations were collected to cover the cost of the trip and gifts.
Hearing Nathan was a fan of Star Wars, the entire Beverly department signed a Christmas card with a picture of Yoda, the wise Jedi teacher from the film series. They also brought a card from the Beverly High School hockey team and few small gifts for the family.
Along with a Christmas card, two Marblehead officers will bring Nathan an official honorary Marblehead police badge engraved with his initials and a mountain-bike patrol polo shirt complete with his name and a badge embroidered on it.
Marblehead’s Penny Bear Company has contributed four bears — one dressed in a police officer’s uniform — for Nathan and his brother and sisters. The trip will be funded by the individual officers, with co-workers donating to the trip.
Marblehead police Chief Robert Picariello said they became aware of the effort from an email service and his department was eager to lend a hand.
“I think it is a worthy thing,” Picariello said. “It is a 6-year-old with terminal cancer and when he asks for something as simple as Christmas cards, that is something we can do.”
Word of Nathan’s Christmas dream spread quickly and officers from around the country have been sending letters and visiting him. The family had reported receiving hundreds of letters each day.
Nathan started another round of chemotherapy last week and is taking various drugs to fight tumors in his brain and spinal cord, according to his family’s website.
“These are just to try and stabilize the tumors but will not get rid of the cancer,” the family said. “It is just to try and buy time.”
Nathan’s family has been spreading the Christmas cheer to others by donating more than 3,000 toys to various hospitals and charities.
The convoy will surprise Nathan today.
“When he sees about 200 of us in over 100 cruisers it should really surprise him,” Abrahamson said.