“That is when his regular toddler tantrum turned into a meltdown, or what I call, the point of no return for him,” Pomilla wrote in a now-viral Facebook post.
Andrew rolled on the floor, he screamed, he flung his shoe across the train, she said in an interview. Pomilla, a single mom who moved to Ballston from Texas six months ago, was desperately trying to calm him down.
“Then he starts the kicking, hitting, pulling my hair while everyone in rush hour stares on the train, most thinking I was a bad parent who had an out of control child, even though really he can’t help it,” she wrote.
Sometimes, she said, Andrew becomes flooded with emotions and is unable to process or handle the wave of feelings. Pomilla, who was still in her work dress after a day in the office at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in Bethesda, said she felt like everyone was staring at him.
“I blurt out loud, ‘I’m so sorry he has autism!!!’ in an attempt to stop the stares,” wrote Pomilla, 24. “He was getting worse and I knew we had to get off.”
They exited the car at Gallery Place, as she carried her flailing son, his backpack, her purse and a bag of groceries she had recently bought. It was one stop before Metro Center where they usually change trains to get home. She thought Andrew would calm down once they got off the train. But things got worse.
“Now we’re rolling around on the dirty station floor. He is covered in black dirt. I try picking him up but he continues to kick which now gets dirt on me,” she wrote, adding that it went on for about 15 minutes.
Feeling defeated and judged by onlookers, her bags splayed around her, tears sprang from Pomilla’s eyes. She said this was Andrew’s worst meltdown in about a year.
She saw someone approaching and felt a sense of panic. Then the two looked up to see a Metro Transit Police officer. Andrew froze.
“She definitely looked like she needed a little help,” said the officer, Dominic Case, who has been with the department for five years. “He was having a tantrum and she was carrying a lot of bags.”
Case asked whether she needed a hand. Pomilla explained what was going on, and that they needed to get to Ballston, about 30 minutes away.
“Without hesitation he said, ‘Okay I’ll come on the train,’ ” she wrote.
Case, who has a 4-year-old son of his own, crouched down to Andrew’s eye level and started chatting with him, showing the boy his police gear. He said he did that because he knows how much his own son likes police equipment. Pretty quickly, Andrew stopped crying.
Case then took off his adhesive police badge from his vest and asked Andrew: “Can you be a police man with me and help me do police work on the train?” Pomilla said.
Andrew said yes, and as they walked toward the escalator, Andrew put his hand in Case’s and held tight, Case said.
Case, 27, said he felt honored Andrew grabbed his hand because in training classes he learned that people with autism often don’t like to be touched.
“Being that he really wanted to hold my hand, it seemed like a calming thing at the time,” he said. “It seemed the right thing to do.”
Case got on the train with them and rode a stop to Metro Center. As they exited to switch lines, Pomilla thought Case would leave them. But he didn’t.
“I was like, ‘Thank you again so, so much,’ ” she said. “Then I was like, ‘Wait, are you not leaving?’ ”
She wrote on her Facebook post: “The officer ends up riding the metro THE ENTIRE train home with us!!!.”
On the ride, Andrew held Case’s hand, and at Andrew’s request, even made funny faces using the Snapchat filters on Pomilla’s phone.
Once in Ballston, Case walked them to the escalator and they all said goodbye. Pomilla tried to give Case back his badge, but he insisted Andrew keep it. Andrew who will be 5 in a few weeks, was thrilled. Pomilla was bone tired from the ordeal but feeling very lucky.
She thanked Case profusely, for his “immeasurable amount of kindness and for making Andrews day (probably his whole year),” she wrote.
“He didn’t have to do this, it wasn’t in his job description,” Pomilla said.
Case said he was just glad his approach worked out.
“I really didn’t mind riding with them,” he said. “Her son seemed to be really happy I was there.”