VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (WIAT) – Jessie Barnhill and her 6-year-old daughter, Riley Ann, were running late.
As she was rushing to get Riley Ann to Vestavia Hills Elementary Cahaba Heights on time Wednesday morning, Barnhill had no time to make breakfast. A Nutri-Grain bar would have to do for her daughter.
Arriving in the parking lot of the school, Barnhill dropped off Riley Ann, whose bar hit the ground the moment she got out of the car.
Ofc. Clement Leos, school resource officer at Vestavia Hills Elementary, saw the whole thing.
“I told her ‘Baby, you can’t eat that because it’s dirty,” said Leos, who has worked at the school for seven years.
Riley Ann told him that that was the only thing she had for breakfast. As she walked through the front doors, Leos had an idea. He walked her to the school cafeteria, where there was still some breakfast bars left. Riley Ann took a strawberry bar. Leos paid for it.
“I told her to take her bar and get to class,” he said.
When Riley Ann came back home later that day, she told Barnhill what Leos had done for her.
“It’s part of the beauty of living in Cahaba Heights is everyone looks out for each other and takes care of each other,” Barnhill said. “It’s great to be a part of it.”
Both Barnhill and her daughter were so moved by Leos’ generosity that they wrote him a note, thanking him for looking after her and getting her breakfast. Riley Ann left it on Leos’ squad car the next day as he directed traffic at the school.
Leos did not think much about the note. For the 25-year police veteran, it was all part of the job.
“A part of the responsibility also is not only keeping the kids safe here at school and the staff, but it’s also trying to interact with all the children and let them know that I’m not just here to protect them, but I’m also here to try and show the duties and responsibility police officers everywhere have to be nice and to just be a good person,” he said.
Alicia Hunsberger, principal at VHECH, said that at the school, teachers try to stress the importance of being a “Heights Hero” through one act of kindness at a time. For Hunsberger, Leos wholly embodies that philosophy.
“We talk about our school being safe and happy heights because it’s not just about their physical safety, but it’s also about their social and emotional safety and being happy, because when they’re happy about coming to school, it’s going to be a safe place for all of us, both physically and emotionally,” Hunsberger said. “I feel like he understands that in a real way where he responds where there is a need.”
Leos is considering retirement at the end of the school year, but is still unsure if he wants to walk away from what he loves: the school and the children.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said.