In January 2020, retired Atlanta Police Department officer L.J. Williamson thought she was being recognized at a pep rally for working with a local program that helps kids in need.
But she had no idea that she was in for a bigger surprise.
While Williamson stood on the court, her eldest son, U.S. Army Spc. Shakir Aquil, ran into the Therrell High School pep rally to surprise her after a two-year deployment in South Korea!
As soon as Williamson saw Aquil, 22, she ran into his arms and the two shared a long-awaited embrace. Although filled with joy, the officer’s honest first thought was, “Why did he do this to me?”
“I don’t like showing emotion in front of people, and I try my best not to,” she told “Good Morning America.” “As a police officer you’re expected to be stern, and I thought why did he do this in front of all these people?”
It was the first time she got to hug her son since December 2017, when he returned home when his grandfather died.
Williamson said she was “so happy” upon reuniting with Aquil.
The soldier is a chef in the U.S. Army who left for basic training in Oklahoma after graduating high school. He then went to Virginia for further training and to Seoul, South Korea.
Williamson admitted that she emotionally struggled when Aquil was first deployed.
“I cried for probably about a month,” she recalled. “This baby that I had when I was a baby — I was just 18 when I had him — we kind of grew up together and I felt like a part of me was displaced with him being so far away.”
Aquil said his mom is his “best friend” and said he also had a hard time being so far away from her.
“Honestly, it was pretty heartbreaking. I’d see other people with their parents, even in movies, and it was a very sensitive part,” he said. “She made everything amazing in my life. She tries her best.”
When Aquil learned he would get time off before being stationed in Seattle, he decided to give his family a homecoming surprise—something that’s been his lifelong dream.
“I’ve always wanted to do it, even since high school when I was looking into going into the Army and always watched the coming-home videos,” he said. “I’ve been planning this for years.”
Aquil tricked his mom into believing that he was coming home to Atlanta on January 22, but the truth was he was arriving a few days early.
He then coordinated with Therrell High School officials and one of his mother’s close friends, a fellow school resource officer, to arrange the surprise.
After traveling 19 hours from Seoul to Atlanta, Aquil made his first stop at his little brother’s school to surprise him in class. Then the siblings went to their grandmother’s house and surprised her before making their way to Therrell High School.
The school first played a footage of Aquil congratulating Williamson on her recognition.
“I’m proud of you,” he said in the clip. “We’ve got one more week.”
But it was only one more minute. The boys’ basketball team ran out to the court, and Aquil trailed behind them.
Aquil said he felt nervous before the surprise, and the only second thoughts he had about going through with it were because he wanted to see Williamson sooner.
“I didn’t even want to wait for the pep rally. I just wanted to see my mom,” he said.
But the surprise exceeded his expectations.
“It took me by surprise almost more than the surprise for her,” said Aquil.
The family danced, sang, cooked, and hung out together during the 21 days that Aquil was at home. Williamson looked forward to tasting his excellent cooking, especially his lobster tail.
Watch Aquil’s joyful homecoming surprise for his mother in the video below.