Smith: Heartwarming video captures special moment between Santa Rosa police officer and student

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Sometimes even Kermit the Frog isn’t enough.

A stuffed likeness of the renowned Muppet is almost always with Raquel Zuniga, 12.

“He soothes her,” says Raquel’s mom, Allie Hile-Zuniga. Clutching or playing with Kermit helps Raquel, who was born in Santa Rosa with Down syndrome, to move through her days in a special-education class at Slater Middle School.

Last Thursday, Raquel froze up despite the comfort she derives from her green pal. It was time for her to walk from one part of the campus to another, and she made it only to a door leading from an indoor hallway to outside.

“She has some difficulty, at times, transitioning,” explains her mom. “For example, if she’s happy being in the classroom, she doesn’t want to go out to lunch.”

With Kermit tucked into an arm, the seventh-grader made it to the door on Thursday, and no farther. Her teacher, Meaghan King, stood with Raquel, who speaks only little, and assured her that it was OK to go out the door.

The two of them, three if you count Kermit, were there for quite some time.

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AND LOOK WHO happened by: Uniformed Santa Rosa police officer Chris Morrison.

A school resource officer, Morrison spends most of her time working with students and staff at Montgomery High School, about a mile from Slater. She was called to the office at the middle school on Thursday and was in the hall when she spotted the quiet impasse at the door.

Long ago a California school teacher, Morrison saw that Raquel, whom she’d noticed previously at Slater, was stuck in place by the door, her head down, hanging on to a toy Kermit. The officer was accompanied at that moment by assistant principal Jessica Romero.

The two of them and teacher King spoke about Kermit, and about his most famous song, “Rainbow Connection.” With that, the police officer did something that surprised everybody.

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“I WENT OVER and started singing to her,” the police officer said.

Not noticing that Raquel’s teacher was recording a video on her cellphone, Morrison stood facing the child and broke sweetly into the hit song from 1979’s “The Muppet Movie.”

“Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what’s on the other side? Some day we’ll find it. The rainbow connection. The lovers, the dreamers, and me.”

King’s video also captured Morrison asking Raquel, “Did you know Kermit sings that song?”

With that, the child looks up, turns her head toward her teacher and smiles. What a moment.

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NOT LONG LATER, Raquel moved on to her next task at school. Her teacher later tweeted the moment shared by Raquel and Officer Morrison, and so did the Santa Rosa Police Department.

On Sunday night, anchorman Tom Llamas shared the video on ABC World News Tonight.

Raquel’s mother and father, Juan Carlos Zuniga, say she can’t get enough of watching the news clip.

“She’s having so much fun,” Juan Carlos said.

He finds so much to love in the video of the youngest of his three children and the school police officer. For one thing, Raquel’s father said, Morrison has a truly beautiful voice.

“And obviously,” he said, “she has a beautiful heart.”

You can reach Columnist Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 or chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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