Rohnert Park officer applauded for helping young runaway

Photo: Nichole Christensen

The job of a police officer covers a wide range of duties, many urgent in matter, while others require the sensitivity and gentle handling of someone who'll take a moment to show compassion and care. 

Earlier this month, a young Rohnert Park boy who was having a tough day, came upon just what he needed in a young officer.

Police were called to University Elementary School at La Fiesta, where teachers and administrators told officers that a 2nd grader had run off and left the campus.

"He was worked up, probably for about an hour," the boy's mom, Nichole Christensen, explained to KTVU. "He was running from the principal," she added.

24-year-old Officer Justin Shonley was sent to the school to look for the boy.

"When I got there the teachers were kind of waving me down, and he was actively walking down the street from the school."

Officer Shonley quickly caught up with the child in his patrol car, and the officer said that's when the boy dove into some near-by bushes. 

"So when I saw him I just pulled over, got out of my car, and said, 'Dude, I have X-ray vision. I can see you.'"

The child responded by saying, "Oh man," and emerged from the bushes. That's when the officer seized the opportunity to ask him what was going on.

"So he sat down and started crying," Shonley explained. The officer followed the child's lead and sat down next to him.

"I sat with him, sat criss-cross applesauce and just listened to see what he had to say," Officer Shonley recounted. 

The boy told the officer that he had gotten in trouble after he poked some kids for breaking school playground rules. Shonley said he continued to sit quietly with the child and continued to listen.

After about 10 minutes, the child seemed to have calmed down. So Shonley told him, "You're not in any trouble with me," though he did advise him that he shouldn't poke people. 

At one point during the conversation, the child's mother arrived and snapped a photo of the touching moment before she and the officer convinced him it was time to go back to school. 

She later sent the photo to Rohnert Park police with words of gratitude.

"I wanted them to know that their officer did something really amazing that day," Christensen told KTVU. "It seemed like he was going above and beyond."

Christensen said her son Nathaniel's interaction with the officer came at a time when he really needed some kindness and someone to listen to him. 

"He has been feeling isolated and having trouble regulating his emotions at school," the child's mother said.

In fact, that day he ran off, she said she was already in the area because she had just attended a student support team meeting with school officials that morning. It was a tough day for mom too, so that extra care Officer Shonley demonstrated to her son meant a great deal to the mother.

"Just the time that he took to get down to his level and sat with him as long as he needed," Christensen said. "I thought it was thoughtful and caring."

The police department also applauded the officer's actions and gave him props on Facebook, posting the photo of him sitting with the child. 

The image has resonated with many, receiving more than one thousand likes. 

Officer Shonley said he thought it spoke to people because what the young boy experienced that day was something we all go through.

"I think it's just a story a lot of people can relate to," the officer said, "they have good days and bad days." 

But many applauded the officer his actions, for offering the child exactly what he needed.

"Sometimes you just got to talk to someone," commented Doreen Dail on Facebook, "The officer was right on time."

Kyreen Gonzalez noted, "And that folks is sometimes all it takes. Great job officer."

For the young officer, police work is a job he said he felt a calling for, coming to him in a dream a couple years ago, and he said, "The dream ended up coming true."