"I’m a star," said Covington’s youngest police officer, Morgan Steward.
The community gathered Tuesday to cheer Morgan on as a part of "Officer Morgan Day," an event that was put on by an Atlanta television station to honor the 5-year-old who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy.
Morgan was diagnosed with SMA Type 2 at the age of 15 months. Doctors have said the life expectancy of SMA patients is about 20 to 30 years, but his family is praying for a cure and for Morgan to exceed that limit.
A photo of Morgan and his wish to become a police officer, posted on his aunt Alicia Steward’s Facebook page, gained attention from the Covington Police Department and led the department to grant the 5-year-old’s wish, swearing him in as a police officer at a city council meeting in early December.
Some of his duties included remembering the Miranda rights and leading the Covington Christmas parade. However, CPD assigned some other duties to the kindergarten cop Tuesday as a part of Officer Morgan Day.
CPD Capt. Ken Malcom escorted Officer Morgan through each of his duties, starting at 11 a.m. They included helping children cross the street by stopping oncoming traffic, arresting a "bank robber" at BB&T, helping to solve a theft at the Southern Heartland Art Gallery, and rescuing a team mascot.
The event brought out local and state officials, Santa, and even former NBA basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, who helped Officer Morgan protect and serve the city by rescuing a cat from a tree.
Once Officer Morgan completed his CPD duties, supporters surrounded him and his family onstage for a number of surprise presentations.
A representative for U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson, officially declared Tuesday, Dec. 17 as Officer Morgan Day. Hunter Hall, president of the Newton County Chamber of Commerce, presented Officer Morgan with an honorary paver to be displayed in Covington’s Hollywood Walk of Stars. R&R Mobility of Conyers updated the family’s van with a lift for Morgan’s wheelchair, and Quantum Rehab of Pennsylvania created a special wheelchair with police lights and sirens for Morgan.
The family also received four plane tickets from Southwest Airlines to go on a Disney cruise, a trip sponsored by Make a Wish Georgia.
Though the event honored Morgan and his family, his mom Tangi Forman Steward said the day was about telling the story of other children who suffer from the same disorder. She said she hopes that people will donate to Families of SMA, a national organization that teaches families how to care for children and loved ones with SMA and raises money to help find a cure.
Morgan’s mom said the outpouring of support from the community has been amazing.
"I don’t want to move from Covington. I really love everybody. The police department has been wonderful. Everybody has been just great, and Morgan feels like he has a bigger family now, a much bigger family," his mother said.
"It’s really nice, and I’m just joyful right now that he is having this opportunity to forget about treatments. Even though he has to get them down, he doesn’t have to worry about them."
Morgan’s dad, Barron Steward, said the day was really special for Morgan.
"After all the challenges he has faced as a child from birth up until now with all the hospital stuff, that’s the downside. But to see a big milestone, a big moment where it’s just turning into something we don’t know how to describe … to me it’s soothing to the soul," Barron said.
"Morgan truly deserves it; he’s been a trooper. To me, he’s my superhero."
Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton said at the event that the day made him proud of the community.
"This started with just an idea of trying to fulfill a small dream for Morgan to be a part of the police department," he said " And it’s just blossomed into something I think makes the meaning of Christmas and who we are as human beings who care for each other that much more special."