What happens when your hero surprises you?

Alexia Richardson was surrounded by teachers dressed as Superman, but she didn’t know her favorite superhero was right behind her.

Tech Sgt. Casey Richardson of the Second Air Force surprised his daughter on Monday returning from his deployment in Afghanistan before she expected it.

Alexia’s school, Popp’s Ferry Elementary, staged a Red Ribbon Week program called “Reading is My Superpower” to pull off the ruse.

“Popps Ferry really pulled together and really put things together for us,” said Alexia’s mom, Charity, a kindergarten assistant teacher at the school. “I did nothing but tell them the date and time we would be here and they did everything else.”

It went off flawlessly.

School principal Todd Boucher had called Alexia, 11, to the front of the assembly to ask her about heroes that don’t wear capes. Her answer was police officers, but when the screen behind her was raised, Boucher asked, “What about this guy behind me?”

It took a moment for Alexia to realize what was happening as the screen began to reveal a man in Air Force fatigues.

“I was confused at first, then I realized it was him,” she said. Alexia jumped up and hugged her father as her fifth-grade classmates and teachers cheered.

Casey Richardson said he was trying to keep his emotions in check before the moment, but as he hugged his daughter, tears flowed.

Richardson said his six-plus month deployment has been “very difficult.”

The reunion with his daughter helped ease the pain.

“It feels good,” he said.

John Fitzhugh: 228-896-2193, @JFitzhughPhoto