AVON — Students in Avon Schools headed back to class Thursday — taking obligatory “first day of school” photos, packing lunches and bookbags — but for two girls in the district, the morning was marked with a different sendoff into the new school year.
Kayla Nguyen, 15, and Maya Nguyen, 8, walked into their first days this year at Avon High School and Heritage Elementary School flanked by Avon and Cleveland police officers. The girls’ father, Cleveland police Officer Vu Nguyen, died in July after collapsing during a training exercise. He was described by fellow officers as a devoted father — known to cook breakfast for his daughters after getting off work at 4 a.m. — and the first day of school was something he wouldn’t have missed.
As one Cleveland officer put it, Kayla and Maya lost their father, but gained roughly “1,600 aunts and uncles.”
The escort was organized by Avon Officer Chris Barton and Cleveland Detective Aaron Reese. Organized almost overnight, the pair contacted the school and family to OK everything, before 30 to 35 officers lined the walkways into the high school and Heritage on Thursday morning.
“Vu would have done the same for me, was what was going through my mind if I
wasn’t able to make the first day of school,” said Barton, who was one of the officers at the high school. “I was happy to see CPD invited us to be a part of it.”
He said it was hard to judge Kayla’s reaction as she walked into her first day of sophomore year. Maya entered third grade to cheers from the more than 30 officers lining the sidewalk.
“Obviously (Kayla) was happy and crying at the same time,” he said. “It’s stressful, we understand. I think it’s overpowering for their ages, but I think they appreciate it.”
Barton said he and Reese had never planned something like this before, but said the schools were able to provide a staging area for officers and their cars and were extremely accommodating, even on such short notice. Superintendent Mike Laub said the district was very happy to help make the moment happen.
A Cleveland officer said the department will continue to support the family and make sure the girls are never excluded from any activity or event because they don’t have a father to go with them — as the city’s police force will be standing behind them.
For Reese, the escort was in part to make sure the family knew they weren’t overlooked as time passed from Officer Nguyen’s death.
“I would say that it was important to the Cleveland police department to make sure that his family knows that they haven’t been and will not be forgotten,” Reese said. “Throughout the whole process, the Cleveland police department and the Avon police department have done a tremendous job of offering support of the Nguyen family.”
“There’s a lot of first things that Vu’s going to miss,” Barton said. “(We’re) not trying to replace their father, but we’re here.”