Merrimack boy makes fast, special friends at play date

MERRIMACK – A mother seeking friends to spend a day with her son quickly came to the attention of the Merrimack Police and Fire departments on Thursday, when both agencies responded to her call and made sure the 11-year-old boy would not play alone.

Delilah Mendrala, of Merrimack, worried about her son’s infrequent play with children his age and authored a post to a locally-based Facebook forum requesting other parents meet her and her son, Austin, at the James Mastricola Elementary School playground for a play date.

"This is my handsome son Austin," she wrote in a post featuring a picture of a beaming Austin Mendrala in his Boy Scout uniform.

"He is 11 years old. He may smile in this picture but today at the playground he cried his eyes out because his younger brother and sister each had a friend to play with and he does not," she wrote. "He rarely, if ever, gets invited to play dates. He usually spends the entire summer vacation sad and
crying for a friend."

Although her son has an autism spectrum disorder and Tourette’s syndrome, Mendrala said he still wants grow up to be a paramedic and hero. She mentioned he would really like to meet a paramedic.

Other Merrimack parents said they would be happy to meet with the family and the play date was set.

The most amazing time’

The story could have ended there, but detectives at the Merrimack Police Department, acting on a tip passed through one of their more trusted informants, were made aware of the impending gathering of accompanied minors, according to Merrimack Police Chief
Mark Doyle.

Officers then sprang into action.

"One of our detectives has a daughter who is also on the autism spectrum and his wife noticed the post," Doyle said. "His wife asked him to get some guys together and that’s all he needed to hear. He kicked it into high gear and we got some police cars together. Then he got a hold of the fire department and we got some fire trucks together."

Soon Austin Mendrala had lots of friends to play with.

Parents seeing the Facebook post brought their children – eight in total. Five police officers stopped by and showed off the department’s DARE vehicle and a few romped around the playground with Austin, his siblings and the other kids.

Six firefighters showed up with a company truck and let Austin climb in and try his hand at the sirens and lights.

Delilah Mendrala said she couldn’t be more thankful.

"Our family would like to thank the heroes of the Merrimack Police Department and the Merrimack Fire Department who came to make friends with our son, Austin," she said to The Telegraph.

"Thank you for the outpouring of support, you are all amazing. You took time out of your day, protecting, serving and saving lives, to rescue one boy from loneliness," she added. "He had the most amazing time of his life. From the bottom of our hearts we thank you!"

Mendrala also conveyed her appreciation to the many parents who either brought their kids or wanted to and couldn’t make it. Austin Mendrala echoed his mother’s thanks.

"Thank you everyone for coming at the play date," he said, "especially the police, the paramedics and firefighters and all the kids. It was the best day and play date ever. Thank you everyone."

Matthew Medsger can be reached at 594-6531, or @Telegraph_MattM.