The boy caught her eye.
The Fullerton Police dispatcher walked up and started chatting with him.
“He had such a sweet face and demeanor,” Dina Warner recalled of first meeting Chase Hotchkiss, “but there was something that looked a little sad. So I sat with him while he ate to get to know him a little better.”
It was Dec. 17, 2014 — Shop With A Cop night with members of the Fullerton PD.
Kids selected for the Target shopping spree munched on sandwiches prior to hitting the store as cops and other FPD employees chatted with them.
“I knew that I wanted to be paired up with him for the shopping event,” Warner said.
Chase’s divorced father, Brian Hotchkiss, 43, a plumber, was experiencing tough times after being laid off.
Hotchkiss was doing all he could to support Chase and his two other minor children, ages 12 and 14, but money for Christmas gifts was very tight.
Warner, a part-time dispatcher with the Fullerton PD for five years whose husband, Cpl. Ryan Warner, has served with the agency for more than 15 years, was participating in Shop With a Cop for the first time.
A mother of an 8-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl, Warner was touched by Chase’s attitude as they began shopping. Officer Timothy Gibert joined Warner, who later was joined by her husband.
Like all the kids selected by their schools to participate in Shop With A Cop, Chase had been given a $100 gift certificate.
“Chase was so very humble,” Warner said. “He seemed almost embarrassed to ask for anything.
“He really wanted a video game for himself and his brother, and once we found it, he didn’t want to keep asking for anything else.”
Warner persisted, suggesting Chase buy something for his sister and brother and father and mother.
“I had to almost pry it out of him,” Warner said. “He picked some gifts for every member of his family — DVDs, nail polish, and we helped him pick out a couple of T-shirts.
“We worked hard to make him laugh and smile, and by the end of the shopping experience, he was all smiles.”
Although Chase did not want Warner to go over the $100 amount, she and Gibert and her husband dipped into their own pockets to the collective tune of about $100.
Other officers did the same to help make Christmas special for the kids they were partnered up with that evening.
While shopping, Warner noticed Chase’s shoes: extremely worn-out, black Converse sneakers.
“My son has shoes for church, for the backyard, for school, flip-flops, but some kids out there only have one pair,” Warner said.
“That always gets to me.”
Warner and Chase searched for new shoes but she could tell he had his heart set on a new pair of Converse tennies — a brand Target doesn’t carry.
“I don’t blame him at all,” Warner said. “At that age, kids are noticing stuff like brands and what is or not ‘cool.’”
Warner got permission to buy Chase shoes somewhere else and surprised him at Rolling Hills Elementary School the next day — Chase’s 13th birthday.
Chase was called into the office and was happy and surprised to see Warner and her husband with the new black Converse shoes.
“He put them on right away and left his old shoes in the new box in the school office to pick up after school,” Warner said.
“It was truly one of the most rewarding things for my husband and I — definitely an event that we will not forget.”
Warner plans to stay in touch with Chase.
“Why?” she asks. “To show him that there are people who care about others. To show him that as law enforcement personnel, we care about him — that we are not people you should fear, but that we are humans too and have families and care about people who are in need.”
“He’s always wanted to be a cop, and he’s been through a lot,” Hotchkiss told Behind the Badge OC.
“What the police department did was very nice. They made Chase feel special.”