It was before 9 a.m. on a Monday, and Tara Keegan hadn’t even had her coffee yet.
Inside a local convenience store, her son was having a meltdown.
Most days you’d never know her 8-year-old falls on the autism spectrum, but today was one of those rare exceptions. New situations can press Caleb into extreme bouts of anxiety, and on this morning, Keegan found herself trying to calm her son down – and coax him to the car – with promises of candy.
But the boy wouldn’t budge, and they were quickly beginning to create a scene.
Exasperated and under-caffeinated, Mom resorted to her size advantage to persuade the 8-year-old to move. She picked Caleb up, threw him over her shoulder and carried him, kicking and screaming, to the car. It was just another day in the life of a mother.
That is, until Clayton Police Officer Jeff Young arrived on the scene, responding to reports of a possible child abduction in progress.
Someone had mistaken Keegan for a kidnapper.
It was a delicate situation, and an unsympathetic cop could have easily done more harm than good. Caleb was already anxious, and it wouldn’t help to have his mother interrogated and possibly detained by police. But Officer Young was up to the task, and instead of escalating the child’s anxiety, he worked with Keegan to help calm Caleb down.
“He could have made a bad situation worse,” Keegan said. “Instead, Officer Young spent upwards of an hour with Caleb, and it really made him feel safe.”
Keegan said Officer Young went above and beyond to put her son at ease. Young took the time to give Caleb a tour of the Clayton Police Department, offered him some goodies and even introduced him to the Town’s K-9 officers, Abel and Major.
Keegan doesn’t often discuss her son’s medical details in public, she said, but her experience with Officer Young was so exceptional she just had to share her appreciation. She posted a thank-you note on her Facebook page, and within six hours the story accumulated nearly 100 likes.
“People like (Officer Young) not only change lives, but they encourage others to meet people where they are without shame or judgment,” she wrote. “In fact, my son said ‘I liked that cop ’cause he didn’t say I was bad or not normal.’”
On Friday, Keegan shared her story during a breakfast networking meeting at the Clayton Chamber of Commerce. Keegan directs special projects and recruitment for the chamber, and she took the opportunity to thank Officer Young before a group of 50 local businesspeople and community leaders.
Police Chief Bridges noted that Young had been voted Officer of the Year a month before his encounter with Keegan. The chief said the story reinforced what he already knew about Officer Young.
The Town of Clayton invests heavily in public safety, dedicating 42 percent of its $45 million annual budget to the cause, Mayor Jody McLeod said. But it’s the way the men and women at the Clayton Police Department put those resources into action in the community that sets our Town apart, he said.
“We are so fortunate that we have people out there who do what they’re trained to do – but also lead from the heart,” McLeod said. “That makes the biggest difference, and that’s what separates Clayton from the pack.”
For his part, Officer Young said that culture starts at the top of the Clayton Police Department with the leadership we have on the force.
“It is so important for us to be a part of the community,” he said. “It is really an honor and a privilege to work in this Town.”
Tara Keegan (right) thanks Officer Jeff Young (center) for the way he handled a tough situation with her son.