-- Santa Claus will not be flying in on his sleigh for another week, but a North Carolina girl already has the number one present she wanted -- her dad coming home from a military deployment.
Autumn Gazeley, 5, was surprised Wednesday at her North Carolina elementary school by her dad, National Guard Sgt. George Gazeley, who has spent the past 10 months deployed overseas.
Autumn thought her dad would be home from Kuwait after Christmas, but kept his name on her Christmas list, hoping for a Christmas miracle, according to her mom.
“It says, ‘A Barbie bed, a Barbie dream house and daddy,’” Amber Gazeley said of her daughter’s Christmas list. “I wanted to yell, ‘You’re going to get daddy all right!’ But I kept it a secret.”
Gazeley worked with her daughter’s school, Maiden Elementary School in Maiden, North Carolina, to arrange the surprise Wednesday morning while Autumn’s class had reading time in the school library.
“We tried very hard to keep it a surprise so that Autumn wouldn’t accidentally find out,” said School Principal Lori Reed who, along with Autumn’s teacher, Donna Potter, told students that cameras and some parents, including Amber Gazeley, were there because of the school's new leadership program.
Instead, the cameras caught Sgt. Gazeley walking from behind a door, completely shocking his daughter, who took a few moments before grabbing him and saying “Da Da!”
“To us, it looked like she almost wasn’t sure if she should reach out and touch him,” Reed said.
“She looked at him and had to make sure it was her dad,” Amber Gazeley added. “She was in complete shock for about five minutes and as soon as she hugged him, her shock went away.”
Gazeley says the school allowed Autumn to take the rest of the week off to spend with her dad, who could not be reached today by ABC News.
“He said, “I’m going to take her to do whatever she wants to do,” Gazeley said of George, who missed milestones like his daughter’s first day of school and her learning to read and write.
“They’re going to see a skydiving Santa on Saturday,” she said.