When the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office posts regularly to its Facebook page, each item will generally earn a few dozen to a few hundreds likes.
When it posted last week about a good deed by Officer Derek Pratico, that post blew the average out of the water.
As of Thursday, the post had been liked more than 115,000 times.
Pratico is reaping kudos for his selfless actions towards the victims of a burglary.
In an interview with ABC News on Thursday, Pratico – now a detective — said he was sent to a private home in Jacksonville on March 27 after a woman called to report that items had been taken from her car.
When he got to the home, the woman – identified on a police incident report at British Sheppard – was distraught. Sheppard had gotten her tax refund the day before and she had used it to buy $2,000 worth of clothes for her husband, herself and her children.
She had also bought a birthday present for her son, Brandon, who was going to turn three years old on March 30. All of those items, plus her wallet, were in her green 1998 Ford Windstar.
She had left the car unlocked overnight and when she went back outside the following day, she noticed her belongings were gone. She said she didn’t have the money to buy another present for her son.
“She was very emotional. I had to try to get her to calm down just to understand what she was saying at first,” Pratico said.
Pratico talked to neighbors, filed his report and went on with his day, but he kept thinking about the incident.
“For some reason that call just stuck with me the rest of the shift and then through the night, and when I woke up the next day I decided I had to do something about it,” he said.
Pratico waited until Brandon’s birthday, then went to Walmart and bought the little boy a toy police car and a birthday card. He also bought him a birthday cake from the supermarket. For Brandon’s mother, he bought a $100 gift card to the supermarket – Publix – to try to help her get back on her feet.
He did it all out of his own pocket, and went to Sheppard’s home early on the morning of the 30th to make his special delivery.
“She was real surprised and gave me a real big hug and thanked me up and down, and had to wake Brandon up. He was sleeping. So I got to give him his present — he was still a little groggy from sleeping,” Pratico said.
As a patrol officer, Pratico said he could respond to as many as 25 calls a day, and even though he’d often follow up days later to make sure people were okay, he said this was the first time he’d done something quite like this.
Pratico, himself the father of two little girls, said he felt compelled to do something for Brandon.
“I definitely wanted Brandon to be able to have a present on his birthday,” he said.
His compassion and generosity sparked lots of conversation on the sheriff office’s Facebook page when the office reported the item there on May 22, including with it a photo of Pratico and Brandon, who was clutching his presents. As of Thursday night, there had been more than 21,000 comments.
“Thank you for listening to your heart and taking action,” wrote Gayle Landen Jenkins. “Hopefully, what you did for him and his mom will have a strong influence on his life. God bless you!
Added Lisa Johnson James: “As a mother of 5, that made me tear up. Thank you so much officer, for CARING I hope he remembers this, because his mother always will If you were around, I’d hug you for being such a wonderful man & role model!”
The head of Pratico’s department agrees.
“My commitment to the citizens of Jacksonville, as their elected Sheriff, is that we will be men and women of character; well equipped; properly deployed; and skillfully managed,” Sheriff John H. Rutherford said in a statement to ABC News. “Regarding the element of character – clearly we hit a home run when we hired Detective Derek Pratico as a police officer. I want to thank him for helping us keep our commitment to this community.”
ABC News couldn’t reach Sheppard by phone Thursday night. The items stolen from her have not been recovered.