When we’re little, we’re told to call 9-1-1 in case of an emergency. The people on the phone are there to help us.
What takes a little while longer to learn is what, exactly, constitutes an emergency. An Arizona 5-year-old named Charlie Skabelund just learned that important lesson in October.
Little Charlie dialed 911 to order a Happy Meal for his sister. Whether he imagined that 911 was a magical number that could connect a person with anyone they needed or his little sister was being a real pain is still unclear.
“Do you have an emergency?” dispatcher Anthony Bonilla asks.
“Is this McDonald’s?” the child asks.
After assuring him that this is the Mesa Police Department and not the fast-food chain, Bonilla again asks (very patiently) if Charlie has an emergency.
The kindergartener says that he would like “One Mc-Happy Meal.” It’s a cute moment somehow made funnier by the fact that you can then hear Bonilla typing. No doubt he’s logging the call, but it almost sounds like he’s punching in the order.
When the dispatcher asks if he’s still there, the boy has already hung up. Somehow, he thinks that’s all you need to do to order a Happy Meal – it’s like the Bat phone but with burgers.
Of course, Bonilla calls back immediately but Charlie answers the phone and even though he introduces himself as “Anthony Bonilla from the Mesa Police Department” when someone in the background asks who’s on the phone he says its McDonalds.
Making sure there’s an adult in the house he can speak with to ensure everything is ok, Bonilla asks to talk to Charlie’s parents. The boy passed the phone to his dad.
Bonilla explains that there have been several calls from the same number and wanted to ensure there was no emergency. Mr. Skabelund explains that the kids had the phone; but instead of launching into a warning about the misuse of 911, Bonilla told him little Charlie made his day.
Hear for yourself:
But the police will still need to come out to the home for a welfare call.
And that’s the problem with calling 911 as a joke or by accident – it takes up valuable police resources while they assure that no one is being harmed or mistreated or held against their will.
Mr. Skabelund, who was chucking at the thought of his son calling for a Happy Meal, stops laughing and says “Oh my gosh” when he realizes Charlie did something pretty serious.
Technically, it’s illegal to call 911 if you don’t have an emergency, but Bonilla knows this is a teaching moment (perhaps for the whole family) and not a crime, per se.
He even jokes that maybe the officer will head to McDonald’s first.
And that’s precisely what happened.
As officer Randolph “Scott” Valdez pulled into the Skabelund’s driveway fifteen minutes later, he had a Happy Meal in his hand. But he needed to give Charlie a little etiquette lesson before he handed it over.
His mom snapped a photo that the department later posted on Facebook along with the important message they delivered to Charlie: 911 is always there for them, but only in an emergency.
Valdez later told Inside Edition:
“I felt like it was a good time to bring him a Happy Meal, but at the same time educate him.”
Mom Kim Skabelund told TODAY Parents:
“Officer Valdez was really sweet and went over the rules with Charlie about when you’re supposed to call 911. He explained how if he’s busy bringing Happy Meals to kids, he can’t help people who really need him. He couldn’t have been nicer.”
When the family got inside, they realized that the Happy Meal order Charlie placed was his sister Jayden’s usual order.
“That’s what Jadyn gets. Charlie only eats the chicken nuggets,” she said. “He’s always looking out for Jadyn.”
It was a sweet gesture, even if it ended more dramatically than Charlie expected.
With some parental reinforcement, he’s sure to remember that 911 is not the Happy Meal Hotline, but rather an important tool for people in trouble – and that the police are benevolent, but mean business.
But don’t try this at home. It should go without saying that not all police will be in a position to teach the lesson so kindly, so it’s best to buy your kid a treat on your own before you go over the basics.
Still, our hats are off to the Mesa Police Department for their great response.
Be sure to scroll down to see the department’s Facebook post and PSA as well as the family’s interview with Inside Edition.
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