It started like any other day. Officer Jeff Colvin began his early-morning daily patrol of the neighborhood and looked up to the large road-facing window, his eyes searching for that small, familiar hand.
Today, however, there was no excited child at the window. No child at all. A dreadful feeling hit the pit of his stomach.
Where was Rio? Briana felt a stab of anxiety. She had looked all over the apartment, in all the places the little girl liked to hide. She had looked under the beds, in the cupboards, and even in the laundry hamper.
Her rising panic intensified when she saw that the front door was standing wide open, and Rio’s backpack lay in a corner of the hallway, discarded.
It wasn’t something Briana Hefley Shepard could ever have imagined happening, despite having such close ties to the community around her. A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, she grew up in that city.
Her parents owned a construction company, Alrac Electric, whose shop was located in the Pearl District, east of downtown. For 30 years, the Hefley family watched the area become rundown and crime-ridden. And that meant changes for them, too.
Alrac Electric was a family business through and through. Owned and operated by Briana’s parents, it also employed her husband, Brent, as an electrician.
Briana herself was an English as a Second Language teacher, but most of her classes were in the afternoon. So she spent her mornings at the office, helping with any tasks that came along. And they needed all the help they could get when it was finally time to move shop.
Luckily for the Hefleys, business was never lacking for Alrac Electric. And when the neighborhood began growing, things got even better. But that came with its own challenges.
Briana’s parents wanted to expand the shop and warehouse space, but there was no more room in their building to do so. So, after 30 years, they decided to move the business out of the Pearl District. Briana had no idea of the chain of events this would unleash.
In 2014, Alrac Electric opened their new location on South Victor Avenue. The building was a hundred years old, but there was room to spare. And it was not too far from the original location.
So the Hefley and Shepard families went back to their routine. And Briana started bringing her three-year-old daughter, Rio, to the office every morning. A construction company is not a fun and safe place for a toddler — but Briana had no other choice.
Little Rio was just three years old, and she still had the wide-eyed wonder that little girls display at that age. Her view of the world was still innocent, and she had not yet been jaded by it.
She was always greeting strangers. Her mother was concerned at first, but then she put the worry out of her mind. “It won’t happen,” she thought, “not to us”.
The company’s new building was right next to the local police station. Little Rio soon took notice. “We get a front-row seat to all of the action,” says Briana. “My daughter lives for it.”
Every morning, Rio would stand on the windowsill and wave enthusiastically at the policemen walking by. And she wasn’t the only one who enjoyed this routine. Officer Colvin had noticed her, too.
Though little Rio didn’t know the policeman’s name, she would stand and wait for him and wave excitedly at him through the large window of the office every morning.
And the cop would always return it. Gradually, her waves became more excited each time he passed. Through this routine, the acquaintanceship became something more.
“It didn’t take long for him to notice her waving to him and for him to return those waves,” remembers Briana. “As time progressed, it became their ritual. He’d blow his whistle, she’d run to the window, and they both would wave and smile ear to ear.”
For Briana, it was a fun thing to watch, especially since it made her daughter happy. But she didn’t think much else of it — until three years later.
One September morning in 2017, Briana walked into the office like every other day. Only minutes later, she heard a knock on the door.
There was no one else at the shop yet, so she opened it. “I assumed he was a construction worker coming to talk construction.” But when the man started talking, she realized he was there for a completely different reason.
The man at the door of the shop was no construction worker at all — he was Officer Colvin. “He was there to ask about the little girl with the blonde hair that waved to him,” said Briana.
He and the other policemen had all been wondering why they hadn’t seen her for the last three weeks. So they had sent someone to find out. Briana had seen her a few minutes ago… suddenly, panic seized her. Rio was supposed to be home that day.
Briana felt her anxiety begin to rise. She left the man standing there and began to look all over the apartment. She even looked under the beds, in the cupboards, and in the laundry hamper.
Her fear only intensified when she saw that Rio’s backpack lay in a corner of the hallway. Then, a little girl peeped out from behind Officer Colvin’s legs and Briana realized what had happened.
Briana was applying her makeup in the next room when Rio had heard seen the policeman approaching from a distance. She had excitedly toddled down the stairs, opened the door, and gone outside as fast as her little legs would carry her.
She was oblivious to all the danger on the street around her. She waited for him every morning, and it was the highlight of her week. This time, she wanted to see him face to face.
Three weeks earlier, Rio – who was now four years old – had started going to school. This meant that she’d no longer get to greet the policeman every morning.
But Officer Jeff Colvin didn’t know that. When he saw that the little girl who waved to him every morning wasn’t there and there was a note in her place, he had to check up on her.
On the first sad day without Rio at the office, Briana heard the whistles as the policeman passed by. She felt bad that Rio wasn’t there to wave, so the next day she made a sign that said: “She started school… Help, please!”
She placed it on the window and forgot all about it — until that September morning.
Rio, who was off sick that day, had run down to meet the policeman she waved at every morning, but she quickly became overwhelmed in the crowd of people on the sidewalk.
Officer Colvin noticed that the little girl wasn’t at the window that morning and decided to check on her. Luckily, he had spotted her and he knew exactly where she lived, so he escorted her back to her front door.
Briana was horrified that she didn’t notice Rio slipping out. How could she have been so careless? And how many other times had her daughter gone out and spoken to random strangers on the street without her knowing?
She didn’t want to frighten little Rio, but at the same time, she needed to speak to her about the danger. Next time she might not be so lucky.
Briana felt relief wash over like a tidal wave as she held Rio close. Then, she thanked the police officer for bringing her back. The pair got to chatting, and he began to talk about how he had noticed little Rio at the window every day.
Then, he made a confession that brought Briana to tears.
“He said that her waves had made his day,” Briana recalls. “For three years they’d shared these moments.” Briana was so moved by this confession that she started crying. And then Officer Jeff Colvin made a touching request.
“He wanted to do something for her; he missed her. He asked if he could send her something.” And it turned out to be his lucky day.
Rio was about to turn five in just a few weeks. So Briana told Officer Colvin that he could send her a birthday present. She also invited him to her birthday party. He couldn’t attend, but he did drop off a few presents just like he promised.
“We enjoyed a small backyard party with a few family and friends and lots of activities for the afternoon,” said Briana. But the craziness wasn’t over.
Briana was so touched by the interaction with the policeman that she wrote about it on Facebook. She did not expect it to blow up as it did.
“It was overwhelming and amazing,” she recalls. “For the first time EVER, I didn’t see any negative comments on a viral post; it was all beautifully positive.” And then something even more incredible happened.
Briana started getting contacted by news outlets all over the country, both big and small. But she had her doubts about the media exposure to her daughter.
“I only communicated with Good Morning America, but in the end, I didn’t feel right about sharing her story with the world any further in that manner,” she explains. That said, she believes the anecdote resonated with so many people for a very good reason.
“Witnessing their unconventional friendship over the past several years has been nothing short of magical,” wrote Briana on her blog.
“To know it impacted them just as much as it impacted us fills me with love and hope. The visit today and their ongoing kindness to my daughter has reaffirmed my faith in goodness and humanity. These are moments we’ll always remember.”