PEABODY — When fifth-grader Selena Vargas was having trouble going to school — out of concern the Thomas Carroll School on Northend Street could suffer a real lockdown — Peabody police officer Richard Cochran came to the rescue.
Earlier this year, Selena's mother, Jennifer Vargas, said she emailed Cochran — who is the resource officer for the city's elementary schools — at 2 a.m. about her daughter's concerns about going to school. Selena was 10 at the time.
Cochran's response was that he was there for the fifth-grader, who is moving up to the Higgins Middle School in the fall.
But he did not stop there. He met with a guidance counselor and Carroll Principal Tracy Smith on the best way to address Selena's concerns. They called Selena into the office, and Cochran took time to help her overcome her fear. He showed the girl how the school building has security measures on its windows and doors that can prevent an intruder from getting into a classroom.
"We met," Cochran said, "and Jen told me some concerns that she was having, and it's hard, because you look around the country and things are going on in schools, so a lot of people are put on guard; they are worried about their kids."
So, on Wednesday morning at the Carroll School, for going "above and beyond" to reassure her daughter, and for the work Cochran does making kids in all the elementary schools feel special, Jennifer Vargas and her family donated 15 copies of a police-themed hardcover children's book.
The book, called "Our Police," by author Jack E. Levin, describes to children what police do.
The end of the year donation provided enough copies for the libraries at each of the city's eight elementary schools, and copies for the Peabody Institute Library and its West and South branches, plus a few for Cochran, a 56-year-old father of three. Vargas also had labels made with the officer's picture on it for the inside cover to signify the donation.
"He makes every kid feel like they are his kid," Vargas said.
Jennifer and Selena Vargas surprised Cochran with the book donation in a conference room off the main office at 9 a.m., after he finished up helping students cross on Northend and Shamrock streets.
Both Selena and Cochran had tears welling in their eyes.
"Holy cow, it's very nice," he said. "That is so nice, I don't know what to say."
"I want to say thank you for helping both my kids," said Vargas, whose other daughter, Savanna, will be attending Peabody High in the fall.
"I have never had anything in all my time here that has meant as much as this," Cochran said. "I am very fortunate to work in the schools."
Cochran started as a part-time officer in Peabody in 1993 and became full-time in 1996. He worked the patrol beat downtown until eight years ago, when he transitioned over as the city's elementary school resource officer. Today, he's one of four school resource officers in Peabody schools.
Cochran said it can be hard for officers on patrol to be commended for doing something positive.
"So, when you get to be involved in these type of things, you know, not many of the guys that work patrol get that ... What's going on in the schools here, it's all coming from good things," he said.
Selena, now 11, has known Cochran since she started kindergarten at the Carroll School.
"You have always made me feel very safe throughout elementary school," Selena said, reading a letter to the officer. "I would always enjoy seeing you in the morning."
Fifth-grade parent Ronell Crocker said the donation was a good idea.
"He's fabulous," Crocker said, of the school resource officer. "He's great with the children and he's great with the parents, too."
Cochran also gave Selena a tip for not being nervous when it comes to public speaking, after she read aloud a letter she had written for him to go with the book donation.
"Remember, when you speak from the heart, it comes out easy," he said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.