Officers with the Boynton Beach Police Department in Florida attended a young boy’s 5th grade graduation ceremony in place of his father, a former police officer with the department who died of a heart attack in 2016.
The boy, Kaleb, graduated from Northboro Elementary in West Palm Beach on Friday. Nine of his father Joe Crowder’s former colleagues cheered Kaleb on from the audience as he walked across the stage.
“Congratulations, Kaleb! We are so proud of you, and we know your dad is too. We love you,” the police department wrote on Facebook.
“It meant everything to us to be there. We all felt like proud parents,” Stephanie Slater, the police department’s spokeswoman who also attended Kaleb’s graduation, told the Palm Beach Post. “We are so proud of the fine young man that Kaleb is and we know that Joe was smiling his giant smile this morning watching Kaleb, too.”
The Palm Beach Post reported that the elder Crowder was just 44-years-old when he unexpectedly passed away of a heart attack while exercising.
Crowder, who served with the Boynton Beach Police Department for nearly 15 years, was a canine officer and a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army reserves.
Following his death, a local dog park was named in his honor.
“When he was walking down the red carpet and he saw us his face just lit up,” Slater said. “He sat two rows in front of us and kept looking back at all of us. There were lots of hugs and smiles.”
“In each and every one of us, Joe was there,” she added.