Texas cop drives 11 hours to be 'Superman' for Ill. boy with cancer
Senior Cpl. Damon Cole was touched by the boy's story, and decided to do something to help the boy and his family
By Tristan Hallman
The Dallas Morning News
DALLAS — Brian Schottel says his 7-year-old son, Bryce, has a tumor in his stomach that's so big, the boy looks like he "could be a 50-year-old with a beer belly."
Dallas police Senior Cpl. Damon Cole saw an online picture of Bryce, dressed up as Superman for Halloween. Cole has a 7-year-old of his own — a daughter — and was touched by Bryce's story. He wanted to do something to help the boy and his family.
One super problem: Bryce and his family don't live around here. Not even close. They live in Smithton, Ill., a town of 3,500 people about 30 minutes outside of St. Louis.
So Cole — who, despite his own affinity for the Man of Steel, can't leap tall buildings in a single bound — hopped in his Superman-wrapped black 2012 Dodge Charger this month and drove up, up and away for 11 hours to spend time with Bryce.
"If I can bring happiness to this family that's going through this very tough time in life, why not do it?" Cole said.
When he got to Illinois, Cole knocked on the Schottels' door in a full Superman costume and greeted Bryce, who was diagnosed with lymphoma Feb. 28 and has been receiving chemotherapy treatments. Cole showed Bryce his car. He gave him his spare Superman cape, an action figure and a keychain.
"All Bryce kept saying was 'Wow,'" Brian Schottel said.
Dad said he was in awe, too.
"We realized how far this guy came up just to see him and make him feel better and brighten his day," Schottel said.
One of Schottel's favorite parts was when Cole told the boy, "No no no, you're the real Superman. We're just people in costumes.'"
Bryce's parents expected Cole's visit to go by faster than a speeding bullet, but Cole ended up staying for hours. The two played a racing video game; Bryce defeated Superman. They also played with Matchbox cars.
Eventually, Cole told Bryce that he had a secret: He was also Iron Man.
"His eyes lit up," Cole said.
The officer disappeared and changed into an Iron Man suit for Bryce. The two bonded before Cole went to a fundraiser for Bryce. Cole also dressed up as Iron Man for Bryce's elementary school.
"People talk about doing stuff all the time, but he came and he was here and already did more than he said he was going to do," said Regina Carlton, Bryce's mother.
Cole has been dressing as Superman for years now. He is part of a cadre of Dallas officers — called "Heroes, Cops and Kids" — who portray superheroes regularly to mentor kids.
But Cole's love of Superman goes back further. When he was a Little Elm cop eight years ago, he had the Superman logo stitched into his bulletproof vest.
"You get some kids who are scared of us because when their parents are out, they'll see us and say, 'Hey, if you don't behave, I'll get that officer to arrest you,'" Cole said. "We don't want that. We want the kid to know he can come to us at any time."
He said he builds a rapport with kids when he shows them the vest. The kids then ask where his cape is.
"I'm like, 'Well, I can't wear my cape with my uniform. It'll get wrinkles,'" he said. "And they believe it, and they eat it up."
Cole, who paid for the trip out of his own pocket, hadn't visited sick kids in costume before his interaction with Bryce, but he wants to do it again.
Lebanon, Ill., police Officer Kurt Schmulbach, Schottel's friend since high school, was also inspired by Cole. Schmulbach said his department, which took up Bryce's cause, plans to start its own "Heroes, Cops and Kids" group.
Cole's generosity "shocked everybody," Schmulbach said.
When Cole finished his visit, he drove from the small town back to the Dallas metropolis. But when Bryce gets better, he said, Superman will return to Smithton.
Carlton said Bryce hasn't stopped talking about Cole since he left.
"I think he understood what was happening," Carlton said of Bryce. "I don't think he understood how far Damon traveled and how much that really meant."
Schottel said Cole isn't the only stranger to help his son. He said people he doesn't know will walk up to him wearing "Team Bryce" T-shirts. And a bank account to raise funds to pay for Bryce's medical expenses has $8,000 in it — mostly from strangers.
But he said Cole is no stranger now. Bryce's mother and father both said Cole will be a friend to them for years to come.
"You don't see it every day — people like Damon who will take time away from their family to help a sick kid," Schottel said. "Even if it's just to hear that 'wow.' If the world had more people like that, we might be in a better place."
Copyright 2015 The Dallas Morning News