R.I. boy battling cancer gets to be chief for the day

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — Like many a grizzled lawman before him, Tyler Seddon is a man of few words.

Clad in the dark blue uniform of the Burrillville police, he listened solemnly as the town manager swore him in as chief Thursday morning, crossing his heart and pinky-swearing a pledge to serve to the best of his ability, before turning to face his troops.

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“Be safe out there,” he told them.

Then he leaned in for a squeeze from his mom.

At just 7 years old, Tyler is not only the chief of police; he’s also the governor and the deputy attorney general of Rhode Island and a state trooper. He’s a fire chief and a Kentucky state trooper, and he’s probably a few other things, too, but after a while, his mother lost track.

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Tyler is battling leukemia for the second time in his life, and his family is hoping for a match on the national bone marrow registry. Thursday was his birthday, and all he wanted was cards from his heroes: first responders. His mother, Rachel Seddon, is a volunteer firefighter in Pascoag, and he loves to go with her to the station to help clean the fire engines and visit with his favorite officer, Burrillville police Sergeant Brian Pitts, who often stops in.

But his simple request so touched police officers, firefighters, military, and emergency workers up and down the East Coast and beyond that about 1,000 of them converged on his town Thursday morning, from as far away as Kentucky, Virginia, and Delaware, to celebrate with him.

“I’m not sure there’s enough words to express how grateful we really are,” said Rachel Seddon, looking out at a sea of uniforms assembled in Wright’s Farm Restaurant for the party that capped the morning’s festivities. “I really cannot believe that all of you have come out here for one child. . . . I think we’ve truly, in whole, have made a huge difference in the world, just for a birthday.”

At around 9 a.m., Pitts headed for Tyler’s house, where the boy was waiting, dressed in his very own uniform, a gift from the Burrillville police. He was bashful when he saw the media stir his appointment as chief had caused, but grinned as he climbed into the passenger seat of Pitts’s cruiser, where he took control of the siren.

He was sworn in at the police station, where Deborah Hanna, a cancer survivor whose father, Massachusetts State Trooper George Hanna, was shot to death in 1983 during a traffic stop, presented Tyler with the State Police jacket she was given when her father was killed.

“We tough guys have to stick together,” she told him.

Flanked by his own private rescue team ambulance, the chief and his sergeant made their way to the Austin T. Levy School, where Tyler is a student. It was pajama day, and his classmates had poured outside to chant his name, wave handmade signs wishing him a happy birthday, and give him presents.

“They’ve missed him so much; it’s been several months since he’s been here in school,” principal Julie Mayhew said after getting a big hug from Tyler. “We’re just looking forward to the day he can join us again.”

On the way to his party, Tyler’s cruiser stopped to let him out onto Route 102, where a massive convoy of first responders, including many from Massachusetts, were headed with their lights and sirens blaring. Perched on his father’s shoulders, Tyler waved to 315 cruisers, 125 fire trucks, a dozen or so motorcycles, a couple of helicopters, and a drone.

A gigantic American flag was hoisted on two fire truck ladders over the parking lot at Wright’s Farm, and Providence Police Pipes and Drums played him into the function hall, where he was presented with more honorary titles and a mountain of gifts, including a miniature police car from which he greeted the first responders who packed the room.

“By your efforts at being here today, you have all proven to be just what Tyler said and thinks you are: his heroes,” Burrillville’s former police chief, Colonel Stephen Lynch. told them.

The convoy plan started out as just two or three cruisers, said East Providence police Inspector Craig Sroka, who organized the effort, but it exploded on social media.

“He was a little kid that wanted our help, and how can we deny that?” said Sroka, who registered as a bone marrow donor in Tyler’s honor. “It was something simple. It’s not like he’s asking for the world.”

Kentucky State Police Sergeant Jamey Kidd made the 14-hour drive to bring Tyler cards, a message from the mother of a slain fellow trooper, and the news that Tyler is now an honorary Kentucky trooper. “I have a little boy the same age as Tyler,” said Kidd. “Being a police officer and being a father was the reason I wanted to come see him.”

More than 100 people registered as bone marrow donors at the party, said his mother.

Four people somewhere in the United States, she said, have been flagged as potential matches, but their contact information was out of date, and they could not be found.

Tyler’s strength flagged as the day wore on, but his mother said the memory of the party would help buoy his spirits.

“I think it’s really incredible,” Seddon said. “He’s got a lot of support here, and I think that he’ll have this support for the rest of his life.”

Evan Allen can be reached at
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