U.S. Army Specialist Shakir Aquil hadn’t seen his mom in two years and wanted their reunion to be a surprise worthy of that long separation.
On Friday, he pulled off an emotional and unexpected homecoming to huge fanfare — complete with a marching band, cheerleaders and a gym full of hundreds of cheering teenagers.
Aquil’s mother, Atlanta Public Schools police officer L.J. Williamson, works at Therrell High School, where a few family, friends and staffers secretly orchestrated the mother and son reunion using a pep rally as a ruse.
Williamson didn’t think her son was coming back from a deployment in South Korea until next week. But then, as she stood on the basketball court being honored for her work with Toys for Tots, her son strode toward her.
She raced toward him, arms outstretched.
The met in a tearful embrace, surrounded by the Therrell basketball players who have become Williamson’s surrogate sons.
“It was unreal. I couldn’t believe it. I saw the basketball team come in. I figured it was the usual boys who I use to take the place of him in his absence. And then I saw his uniform, and I lost it,” she said.
Aquil, 22, flew in to Atlanta on Friday morning, after a 13-hour layover in Chicago. He hadn’t been home for two years, time he spent stationed in Virginia Beach and Korea.
Before surprising his mom, he stopped by Wesley International Academy, where his little brother Justin Pattillo attends seventh grade.
“We were in the middle of dissecting rats, and I thought it was the preservatives that they were using that was getting to my brain because I saw my auntie and my cousins walk in and they were recording,” said Justin, 12.
Then he realized his brother was there too. They headed to Therrell to surprise their mom.
Williamson retired from the Atlanta Police Department before starting in 2018 as an Atlanta school resource officer. She’s found a home at Therrell. Working with students helps her deal with the anxiety she feels being separated from her oldest son.
“It kind of gives me more kids to take care of,” she said.
That’s why Therrell principal Shelly Powell wanted to help the family capture Aquil’s return in a memorable way.
“She’s a part of our family, and there’s nothing we would not do for Officer Williamson,” Powell said. “If you can imagine not seeing your child for two years it’s almost unbearable.”
While at home, Aquil has promised to cook for his family. His mom has already requested lobster tails.
He leaves in 21 days for his next military assignment near Seattle.
“It feels like a part of me is missing when he’s away,” his mom said.
But Williamson later noted his next, much-closer location: “I can fly to Seattle.”
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