CLEARWATER, Fla. – Two years ago, Officer Jody Thompson took on a case he couldn't walk away from, one that also changed his family forever.
Thompson, an officer for the Poteau, Okla. Police Department, responded to a severe child abuse call while on his way home in 2015.
What he saw still haunts him today.
"Wow, I can't," he said before pausing, appearing to hold back tears as he recounted the story to a room full of police officers, first responders and aquarium staff at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Thursday.
"People ask why or how, but if they'd seen John that day the way I saw him, there was no question."
The abuse victim, who was 8-years-old at the time, ended up becoming Thompson's adopted son.
That decision led his family to Clearwater, where they were honored by the aquarium.
"He was 61 pounds, he was soaking wet, his hands were tied together," Thompson recalled of first seeing John. "He had a knot on his head I'll never forget."
Thompson took John to the emergency room and stayed with him all night.
Days later, Thompson took John home to his wife and two children.
From there, the family quickly grew when Thompson's wife discovered she was pregnant. Months later, John's mother gave birth while in prison.
The family adopted the baby girl too, allowing John to grow up with his biological sister.
"We went from two kids to five in seven months," Thompson said with a smile.
He and his family drove more than 1,000 miles to be honored on Thursday after their story garnered national attention.
The aquarium launched its anti-child abuse campaign called Winter's Rescue Mission, aptly named after the aquarium's dolphin of Dolphin Tale fame.
The program, in partnership with the local non-profit Angels Against Abuse, will aim to spread awareness and promote available help to support abused and neglected children.
"If we can save a life by getting a child out of a bad situation that's all we hope to do," Thompson said. “(John) was in the most horrific condition I've ever seen another human being, let alone an 8-year-old child, and he got out of that. He's the hero, he is the toughest kid I've ever met.”
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