Missouri man Matthew Manley had just picked up his niece from hospital during the summer of 2015 when he spotted the flashing lights of a police car behind him. He pulled his van over, naturally expecting the lawman to hand him a ticket. However, his worries went into overdrive when he saw the officer open the trunk of his cop car and reach inside.
Matthew Manley lives in the small city of Hermann, MO, with his wife Dana. The couple enjoy a close relationship with their niece Sydney, who sadly suffers from cancer. So it was not unusual when, on August 28, 2015, Manley traveled to nearby St. Louis to collect the sick child, who was five years old at the time, after one of her then daily chemotherapy sessions.
So after picking Sydney up from the hospital, Manley strapped the poorly girl into his van. The pair of them then set off on the near 80-mile journey back to their hometown. However, on his way back to Hermann, Manley’s stomach no doubt sank when he saw the flashing lights of the law behind his vehicle.
Yes, as Manley was passing through St. Charles County, a local cop pulled the doting uncle over. And Manley knew the exact reason why; he had committed a traffic violation. The motorist had not changed the license plates from his old car onto his new van within the allotted time frame.
In the state of Missouri, the law requires most vehicles to display up-to-date plates on the front and rear of the chassis. Failure to display a valid license number results in a traffic violation. Speaking to St. Louis local TV channel KTVI, which hosted a re-enactment of the event, Manley admitted, “I knew I was in the wrong. I was going to get a ticket.”
So Manley watched resignedly as the police officer left his cruiser and walked towards the offending vehicle. And as the cop approached, Manley got himself ready for trouble. But there was no way he could have prepared himself for what was to follow. The cop rapped on the driver’s window, behind which Manley was starting to feel pretty nervous.
His nerves got even worse when the cop turned around and went back to his cruiser for something. One thing was for sure, this was no longer a routine pull over. “He had opened his trunk, and he spent quite a bit of time in there,” Manley recalled to KTVI. “I wasn’t sure what he was doing.”
At that point, a fearful Manley took the opportunity to extract his smartphone and contact his wife to tell her about what was going on. “He texted me, scared to death,” Dana later revealed. “Scared. He said, ‘I don’t know what to do, he opened the trunk.’”
However, Manley need not have panicked. Because when he returned to the unlicensed van, the cop in question – Officer Shawn Birdsong of the St. Charles County Police Department – handed over a colorful backpack. The item was intended for Manley’s sick niece, who was waiting in the back of her uncle’s van.
It turned out that Birdsong had noticed Sydney, who had lost her hair through her chemotherapy sessions, in the backseat. As a result, the officer wanted to do something to brighten up the little girl’s day. The bag he returned with was jam-packed full of cuddly toys, art supplies and clothes that he hoped would help take the youngster’s mind off things.
The gift bag full of goodies was one of a number from the non-profit Project Backpack St. Louis. The volunteer-run organization fills these bags with essentials and home comforts for children in need. The charity then dispenses the backpacks to police and social services for their operatives to hand out to vulnerable youngsters.
A description on the Project Backpack St. Louis website reads, “Our backpacks are a powerful tool to help these professionals ease the trauma as the child moves to a safe environment. The backpack tells the child that someone cares when their whole world is crashing around them.” So although Sydney was not vulnerable in the usual sense for recipients of the bag, Officer Birdsong recognized that, in another sense, she definitely was.
Alongside the special backpack, the cop handed Sydney a heartfelt handwritten note. It read, “From Officer Shawn. Hope you get to feeling better real soon!!” He finished his message off with a smiley face. “That meant the world,” Dana later revealed to KTVI.
Birdsong’s kind gesture came as a welcome breath of fresh air to Manley and his family. They had been supporting little Sydney through the trauma of her illness and daily chemotherapy sessions for some time. And the fact that the good deed came from an officer of the law made it even more poignant.
Indeed, the heartwarming incident made the Manleys reconsider the way they had perceived law enforcement officers. “Cops are doing their jobs, but they’re people too,” Dana later told the KTVI cameras. “I don’t think people realize that anymore.”
But Birdsong’s gesture had been over and above the call of duty. And it moved Dana so much that she subsequently decided to post about it on Facebook. In her gushing update, Dana praised the St. Charles County Police Department officer for everything he had done for her niece.
Explaining her decision to go public with their story, Dana said she simply wanted to honor Birdsong’s kindness. “This officer went above and beyond to make a little five-year-old girl smile,” she told the news crew from KTVI. “He needed to be recognized.”
Eventually, in the world of the internet, word of Dana’s post got back to Birdsong. The officer then took it upon himself to call the Manleys to say thank you and ask after Sydney. “It brought me to tears again,” Dana admitted. “He’s called and checked on her three to four times since then.”
So while Matthew Manley initially had his reservations about getting pulled over and was fearful while events unfolded, it turned out to be a positive experience. “Yes, our licenses were not good on the van,” Dana said. “We knew that the ticket was coming, and it was his job to give us a ticket.”
But that ticket would come with a treat for the sick little Sydney, courtesy of the bighearted Officer Birdsong. “He did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Dana summed up to KTVI. “He just made this little girl’s day a little better, and that’s what matters.”?