As teenagers, our emotions can often get the better of us for all manner of reasons. In Cameron Simmons’ case, however, he felt he was pushed so far in 2014 that he called 911 and threatened to run away from his home in South Carolina. After responding to his cry for help, though, Officer Gaetano Acerra saw the teen’s bedroom and immediately sprang into action.
Living in Sumter, South Carolina, Simmons apparently got into a heated argument with his mother after she shouted at him for playing video games that belong to his older brother. Clearly distraught by the exchange, the then 13-year-old decided to call 911. And while on the phone, the teenager told the authorities that he wanted to get away from his family and their house.
Officer Acerra of the Sumter Police Department responded to Simmons’ call, hoping to talk him out of running away. “I said, ‘You have it good; you have a roof over your head,’” the policeman recalled to NBC-affiliate WIS-TV in May 2014. “I told him I would try to help him out, and here we are now.”
Acerra, who joined the department back in 2013, eventually made his way to the Simmons’ house. When he arrived, the teenager then led him up to his bedroom. From there, it began to seem to Acerra that there might be more behind the cry for help than a trivial argument between the boy and his mother.
As Acerra walked in, he apparently discovered that Simmons didn’t have a bed or anything else in the room – apart from a black garbage bag holding his clothes. Unsurprisingly, the police officer said he was shocked by the sight, prompting him to investigate further. With that in mind, he subsequently claimed that the teenager’s mother had been struggling since moving to South Carolina from Texas, as she looked after an unwell relative.
Simmons’ unfortunate situation clearly resonated with Acerra, as he then looked to help the teenager and his family. “My heart went out for him,” the police officer told WIS-TV. “I thought the little things that he needed I could give him to make him a happier kid.”
Following his visit, Acerra seemingly spent the next few weeks looking for gifts for the family, with a particular focus on the teenager. After all, the officer said Simmons told him that he only ever got some shut eye on the couch or on a blow-up mattress. So a bed appeared to be one of Acerra’s priorities.
After finding all of the items, Acerra then returned to the house with his brother Ferdinando. The pair arrived in a truck carrying the presents, as they looked to finally fill up the space in Simmons’ bedroom. “The kid was in tears,” the policeman recalled to ABC News in May 2014. “He was just in shock, so happy.”
Among other things, Simmons received a new bed as well as a chair, a desk and a television. However, the surprises didn’t end there, as someone else donated another item during Acerra’s initial search. So, after calling 911 following an argument over his brother’s video games, the teenager was now the proud owner of a Nintendo Wii games console.
And after delivering the items, Ferdinando snapped a picture of Acerra and Simmons sharing a warm embrace outside the house. Inspired by his brother’s actions, he then posted the image alongside a heartfelt message on Facebook. However, few could have predicted what happened next.
Within a few days, Ferdinando’s post had earned over 50,000 likes from users on the social media website. These days, that number stands at over 143,000 likes, and the post has over 59,000 shares and more than 8,000 comments. Despite that outpouring of support, though, Acerra made his intentions clear.
“I didn’t do this for publicity or to get people to notice me,” Acerra told WIS-TV. “I did it because I could. It was the right thing to do, and I think people should do things like this.” Although he didn’t revel in the subsequent spotlight, the police officer was still universally praised by online users, who hailed his actions via Ferdinando’s Facebook post.
“This needs to be shared throughout the country,” wrote user Erica Vore. “Thank your brother for his service to protect and serve and for being such a great person for taking care of a child in need.” That feeling was reiterated by fellow user Marjorie Reilley Harris, who also took the time to praise the police.
“What [Acerra] did was above and beyond the call of duty,” Harris wrote. “Our police force is the best! I’m sure that there are others who do the same to help those in need [whom] we never hear of. God bless the men who wear the uniform.”
Meanwhile, the story hit very close to home for user Malaysia Sweat, who also spoke of her view of the police force’s reputation. “This literally brought tears to my eyes,” she wrote. “I grew up one county over from Sumter and to see this is just amazing.”
“Too many times do we hear and see the men in blue doing messed up things to people but this right here is what it’s all about,” Sweat continued. “Helping and protecting those in need. The little boy will never forget this.” Those thoughts were shared by fellow user Olga Montes, who also hailed Acerra’s efforts.
“Wow, what an awesome officer,” Montes wrote. “If we had more of those kind-hearted officers, it would be a better world. Hats off to that special officer that went the extra mile. May God bless and protect you always for making this young [boy] so happy. I am sure that [he] will never forget this officer for the rest of his life.”
Still, Acerra wasn’t done yet. Indeed, after delivering those items to Simmons’ house, Acerra was seemingly prepared to send him more furniture for his bedroom, including a mirror and a chest of drawers. The pair became friends as a result, too, and the police officer even gave the teenager his personal cell phone number.
In 2016 Acerra left the Sumter Police Department, making the switch to San Francisco, California. Prior to that, though, he outlined his hopes of helping more people in need like the Simmons family. “I didn’t expect this, and I’m not one to gloat or brag or even ask for help, but with all these people standing behind us, we can change a lot of lives,” he told ABC News in May 2014.
So yes, as a teenager your emotions can indeed get the better of you. For Cameron Simmons, though, his seemingly impulsive decision to call 911 changed his life. Not only did he gain some much-needed bedroom furniture, but he also found a friend.