A doctor had just told the little girl that her mother wouldn’t be coming back home after she’d collapsed on the kitchen floor last month.
And yet the 9-year-old managed to thank a police officer who had been called to the scene – apologize, even – that the officer had had to watch her mom die.
“I’m really grateful that you guys came and helped my family,” the girl told Sacramento police Officer Sunny Cranford. “You kept trying, even though you couldn’t do anything.”
It’s not something officers hear very often, especially in rough-and-tumble neighborhoods like that pocket of Meadowview. And it was enough to break hearts – and open wallets – across the Sacramento Police Department.
“When you get a call like this, it pulls on your heartstrings a bit,” Cranford said.
On Sunday, Cranford and several co-workers stopped by the girl’s 10th birthday party to deliver a truckload of gifts – including a glittery purple bike and helmet to match – collected by the department and family and friends.
And they gave her father, a 39-year-old El Salvadoran immigrant laid off from his job as a minimart clerk three weeks before his wife’s death, $3,660 in cash to help the family.
He stared at the envelope, speechless.
“I don’t know what to say,” he finally said, his eyes glistening.
“You don’t have to say anything,” they told him.
The Bee is not naming the family to protect the children and prevent the family from being victimized.
The ordeal began on St.Patrick’s Day, when officers were called to the family’s one-bedroom apartment after the 32-year-old mother collapsed in the kitchen. Dispatchers mistakenly thought the caller – the 9-year-old – had said the woman had shot herself, when the girl actually thought her mom had shocked herself.
They arrived to find the father performing CPR on his wife. Paramedics took over, but the woman was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Her cause of death is unknown, but officers said they were told it might have had something to do with her diabetes.
At the hospital, Officer Cranford held the couple’s 7-month-old as her older sister and their father absorbed the news. Even then, the little girl was worrying about everyone else – her father, the officers and her grandmother, who, the child said, had a bad heart.
Cranford tried hard not to cry when the little girl thanked her. Retelling the story, she cried freely.
“This little girl is just an old soul,” said Sgt. Glen Faulkner.
The incident so moved Cranford, fellow responding Officer Helen Mortlock and Faulkner that they began talking about how they could help the child celebrate her upcoming 10th birthday.
It started with a $100 donation from one lieutenant – an “old school” cop Faulkner described as a “grumpy bear.” It spiraled into baby clothes and school supplies and Target gift cards and thousands in cash.
Faulkner, a 19-year veteran of the department, said he has never seen an effort quite like it.
When Faulkner and his colleagues pulled up to the girl’s birthday party Sunday, some family members looked startled to see so many blue uniforms coming their way.
Then the little girl bounced out of the garage.
“It’s OK,” she said, beaming. “These are my friends.”