LOS ANGELES (AP) — The 3-year-old birthday boy was in his pajamas, about to go to sleep on a cot inside a shelter packed with hundreds of evacuees affected by a damaged California dam.
With just three hours left on his big day, a group of California Highway Patrol officers showed up at the Chico shelter with a makeshift celebration: an ice cream cake, a balloon, a Captain America figurine, and of course, a song.
"We decided you needed a cake on your birthday. Happy birthday!" Officer Logan Callahan tells the boy as he places a cardboard crown on his head, according to a Facebook Live video that's been shared widely since it was posted Monday night.
The video wasn't part of the plan, said Callahan, a public information officer in CHP's Chico office. It was taken by a community member who happened upon the scene and started shooting.
Callahan realized it was the boy's birthday earlier in the day Monday when he was walking around handing out stickers to children staying at the shelter. The boy's father mentioned that he and his wife had planned to make their son a cake.
"I've got a son that's 2-and-a-half, and this young man is turning 3," Callahan said. "I figured, 'What would I want for my kid if he were in that situation?' "
Mike Wrobel, who took the video, said other evacuees joined in singing "Happy Birthday" and seemed touched by the moment.
"It sure was a bleak setting. But I was grinning ear to ear, as was everyone else," Wrobel said. "It was a little bit of joy in a situation filled with a lot of sadness."
Neither Wrobel nor Callahan know much about the boy or his parents, just that the boy's name is Junior. Wrobel was hoping to reconnect with them Tuesday to show them the video he took and how many people were enjoying it.
Nearly 200,000 people were ordered evacuated Sunday over fears that a damaged spillway at a Lake Oroville dam could fail and unleash a wall of water. The evacuees were allowed to return home Tuesday after two nights of uncertainty, but they were warned they may still have to again flee to higher ground on a moment's notice if hastily made repairs to the battered structure don't hold.