The Gonzales Family at the Bellmawr Council meeting. (All photos by Anne Forline)
May 29, 2015 was declared “A.J. Gonzales Day” and Mayor Frank Filipek signed a Proclamation making it official.
During the May 28, 2015 council meeting, week’s council meeting, A.J. was introduced to the Borough of Bellmawr’s elected officials and also to local law enforcement officers who were in attendance.
Several agencies from surrounding areas came to honor and bestow the four-year old with gifts and to make him “one of their own.”
Among those who honored A.J. with special gifts were Bellmawr Mayor and Council, who gave the Gonzales family passes to Diggerland. Bellmawr Police PBA 375 gave the family a membership to the Philadelphia Zoo. Camden County Sheriff Department PBA 277 gave A.J. a badge and patches. Camden County Corrections PBA 351 and VFW 9563 gave the family a monetary donation.
VFW Men’s Club 7410 gave A.J. a special bike. Ethel Burke School gave A.J. handmade superhero capes, books and crafts. The administrative staff of the Bellmawr Police Department gave A.J. the “Captain Bellmawr” cape. Many other Camden County Police Departments sent patches, which A.J. will put up in his playhouse.
FOP is also called “Stone Man Syndrome” and is a rare and baffling genetic condition that causes bone to form in muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissue, according to the International FOP Association (IFOPA).
There are 287 known cases of FOP in the United States. A.J. is number 286 nationwide and in N.J., he is number four.
Following the reading of the Proclamation and presentation of gifts, A.J. was led outside where local law enforcement stood at attention to give the local superhero an up close look at the inside of their vehicles.
A.J. was shy at first until he spotted one of his classmates. He then led her by the hand and together they climbed inside a black Bearcat, a vehicle often used as a rescue or SWAT vehicle.
A.J.’s father told Fox-29’s Shawnette Wilson: “I was born and raised in Bellmawr. I knew I had support, but didn’t know I had this kind of support.”
He hopes his son “can just be a kid. If there’s a cure in the future, that’s great. I just want him to be a kid.”
A.J.’s mother Kristi expressed her gratitude to the community by saying: “Your support means absolutely everything to us and we can’t thank you enough.”