A New Orleans police officer wants help to find a young Gulfport boy named Caden who brightened his work week and touched his heart in a recent encounter.
Officer Mark Lynch wants to reach the boy's family so he can send him some NOPD souvenirs and possibly arrange a meeting next time they are in New Orleans.
Lynch believes the family was in New Orleans for a bowl game Dec. 19, the day Caden, about 5 years old, wandered into his office.
"He was just the cutest kid you've ever seen," Lynch said.
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"We talked and talked and he said he wants to be a police officer. He knew all kinds of things about police -- uniforms and guns and K-9s. It's just amazing he knows all this stuff at the age of 5.
"That's what I was into at his age."
Lynch said he was finishing some paperwork at the NOPD's 8th Police District on Royal Street in the French Quarter and was 20 minutes from the end of his shift. The district office is in an old bank building. Lynch's area was marked by a sign as not accessible to the public, he said, but the boy didn't notice the sign.
Caden wandered in wearing a New England Patriots hat and walked over to Lynch's desk.
He exclaimed with enthusiasm, "'I love police officers!'" Lynch said.
Lynch said he told the boy he loves the Patriots, too.
"I told him I'm from Boston!" Lynch said. Actually, his hometown is Lowell, Mass. Lynch said he figured the boy wouldn't recognize Lowell as being near Boston.
The boy said he has a dog named Brady, named for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
"I told him I have a dog named Gronk," Lynch said.
"Gronk for Rob Gronkowski?" the boy asked, referring to a Patriots tight end.
"He gave me the biggest hug and wanted to take a picture with me," Lynch said. "He told me he wants to be a police officer and he plays cops and robbers with his friends. He said he doesn't ever want to be a bad guy."
'Neatest little kid'
"His mother and then his father and an older brother had followed him in. His mom asked if it was OK to take a picture and I said, 'Of course!' His parents said they are from Gulfport and were in town from the bowl game and thanked me for my time and for making the boy's day.
"I just wish they knew how their son was the highlight of my week at work. He's just the neatest little kid."
Lynch said he didn't think to have a picture taken with his phone and wishes he had given Caden some NOPD souvenirs. He said it thrilled him to realize he and Caden have much in common and Caden could one day be a police officer, too.
"I'd like to send him a patch and a die-cast NOPD police cruiser," he said. "He's my friend now."
Lynch wrote a Facebook post about the encounter and asked his friends to share it. He has been with the NOPD a year, after graduating from a law enforcement academy, and said he had created a Facebook page to stay in touch with family and friends about 1,600 miles away. He said he realizes the post may not make it to people in Gulfport.
The number to call
Anyone who knows Caden's family is asked to give them Lynch's office telephone number. He now works in the NOPD's 4th District, based on Sanctuary Drive.
The office number is (504) 658-6040.
He believes the family was in town for the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where Louisiana Tech beat Arkansas State 47-28 the Saturday before Christmas. He said he had hoped to find the boy and send him some souvenirs for Christmas.
Lynch said Caden's name may be spelled differently and he could be close to 6 years old. But how many Gulfport parents with a son by that name were at the bowl game Dec. 19?
Lynch hasn't given up hope of finding the family. He said he hopes Sun Herald readers can make it happen.
"It's a tough time in America with a lot of bad stories in the news about police," he said.
"It's not every day you have people wandering into a police station wanting to give out hugs. It touched me. It reinforced why I came down here to do what I do. I love my job. I love my city. I'm proud to wear this uniform and to serve this city."