From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

The Youngest Cop in Arizona

Compassion is the chief law of human existence.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Tommy Austin had a reputation. In his world, lies were routine. Everyone had an excuse and an angle. Tommy was a customs agent in Arizona. He had to be smart and tough—Tommy was both.

Chris was a scrawny seven-year-old, hospitalized for leukemia. He saw a simpler world. His heroes were Pancho and John. They were motorcycle cops who rode a television highway and made good things happen. Chris wanted to be one of them.

Chris’s mom, Linda, was a single parent who had moved to Phoenix in the hope of a new and better life. The deck she played was new, but the hands got worse.

One evening Tommy was visiting a friend in the hospital where Chris was staying. Chris caught him off-guard with, “Stick-em-up. I’m a cop, and you’re under arrest.” As men do with kids, Tommy played along. As kids do with men, Chris returned imagination, innocence and trust. Tommy wanted to give a gift in return.

Tommy knew this scrawny kid could never be the cop of his dreams, but he dreamed of a way to make the kid a cop. He enlisted the help of a couple of highway patrolmen, Scott and Frank, a couple of women friends, his boss, and a commander in the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

On the first day, Chris rode in a real patrol car and turned on the siren. He flew in a police helicopter. He rode his miniature battery-powered police cycle and earned his “wings.” He received a proclamation as “the first and only official seven-year-old policeman in Arizona.” Two women stayed up all night to tailor a custom uniform. Chris lived his dream in three wondrously exciting days of glory and love.

On the fourth day, Chris asked his momto bring his uniform to the hospital. Scott and Frank pinned on his motorcycle “wings,” and that day, Chris died. There were those who thought that leukemia had tragically claimed another child victim—but it was a “cop” who died that day.

When Linda took him back east for burial, the body was accompanied by the Arizona Highway Patrol. “We bury our brothers,” they said, and Chris had a policeman’s funeral.

A quote from Lowell tells us, “It’s not what we give but what we share.” Tommy, patrolmen Scott and Frank, Chris’s mom, Linda, and more than 11,000 volunteers in 82 chapters have shared in Chris’s gift. The Make-A-Wish Foundation, formed in a grieving mother’s kitchen, has granted more than 37,000 wishes for kids with life-threatening illness since 1980. Internationally, more than 3,000 other kids have experienced the legacy of “the first and only seven-year-old policeman in Arizona.”

Michael Cody

More stories from our partners