Harrison County

Why Gulfport police will visit a girl who lives 1,800 miles away

Courtney Lerch and her brother, Nolan, wear Anchorage Police junior officer badges in October. Gulfport Chief Leonard Papania and Deputy Chief Chris Loposser will visit the Lerch family while they are in San Diego this week for a conference.
Courtney Lerch and her brother, Nolan, wear Anchorage Police junior officer badges in October. Gulfport Chief Leonard Papania and Deputy Chief Chris Loposser will visit the Lerch family while they are in San Diego this week for a conference. Courtesy Lerch family

Call it a correspondence coincidence.

After he received a little girl’s thank-you card, a Mississippi police chief will get to meet her and her mother on the other side of the country — and even get a home-cooked meal.

Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania said his mail recently contained a card with a thank-you note on one side and a picture on the other.

“You could tell it was hand-drawn by a child,” he said.

A girl named Courtney Lerch, 4 1/2 years old, had drawn a picture of herself with a police officer, a tricycle and these words: “That’s his tricycle and his red light so kids don’t walk in the street without an adult.”

The other side of the card says, “Thank you! We support you!”

“I grabbed a piece of stationery because I always like to write those people back,” Papania said.

Then he noticed the card came from San Diego, where he and Deputy Chief Chris Loposser were soon heading for a conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Papania said he found the mother, Melissa Lerch, on Facebook.

“And here on Facebook was the story of the card,” he said. “It was a project she did with her children, sending one card to one police department in all 50 states.”

He noticed Lerch’s post expressing excitement that a police department in Alaska had sent them a letter and a sticker.

So he sent her a Facebook message: “What would you think if we brought your children something from Gulfport, Mississippi?”

Lerch responded with the offer of a home-cooked meal before they leave San Diego.

Papania said the police department often receives letters and gifts from the community, but the card has turned into a really “feel-good” experience. He and Loposser left Wednesday for the conference and the visit.

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