PEORIA, Ariz. — A little over three years ago, Peoria Police Officer Brandon Sheffert and his partner were on night patrol in a Phoenix suburb, when he noticed a teenage boy sprinting down a busy road.
Thinking it was a bit odd for the neighborhood, they decided to follow him, eventually stopping him in a parking lot.
Anthony Schultz, who was then 16, told the officers he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He was simply taking a run to train for a wrestling match.
For the next 15 minutes, Sheffert and his partner proceeded to engage the sweaty teen in a conversation about his interests.
What happened next amounted to a moment that would change both of their lives forever.
Sheffert asked Anthony what he wanted to do after high school, a question that got the teen’s attention.
“Before that, no one really asked me what I wanted to do when I get older,” Anthony recalled. “I felt as if he cared instantly.”
When the conversation ended, the police officers and Anthony went their separate ways.
‘Where do I know you from?’
A month and a half later, Sheffert responded to a 911 call about a domestic altercation in a one-bedroom apartment. One of the people in the apartment was a young man who seemed familiar.
“I was like, ‘Where do I know you from?” Sheffert recalled. The young man replied, “You guys stopped me for running down the street a little while back.”
It was Anthony. He had been living in the apartment with seven other family members.
“There was a lot of alcohol and other stuff going on with the family,” Sheffert remembered. He felt something was off. So he promised himself he would come back and check on Anthony to make sure everything was OK.
He did this almost daily and soon, Sheffert’s daily check-ins were something Anthony craved.
After a while, a genuine friendship bloomed.
“He would park outside and I would talk to him for like an hour. … It was the best thing in the world,” Anthony recalled. “I knew someone cared about me.”
During these encounters, Sheffert began to understand how much Anthony needed guidance and support. “I think he had a rough go,” Sheffert said. “He didn’t have his dad in the picture. I don’t think he had a solid male role model, ever.”
Holding back tears, Anthony acknowledged his father wasn’t around much. “The thing is, I’ve never had a relationship with my father. I only met him once.”
The family had been evicted from homes. At one point, Anthony was kicked out of the house. His mother had called Sheffert and said she couldn’t “handle him” anymore.
“It was one of the saddest moments in my life,” Anthony recalled. “My own mom didn’t want me to be there. She chose a guy over me and I didn’t appreciate that.”
Welcome to the family
Sheffert stepped up and ended up filling a much-needed role in the unsettled teen’s life. The Shefferts unofficially adopted Anthony and he blended right in with Sheffert’s wife, Courtney, and their two young children. They view Anthony as one of their own.
As a result, Sheffert has guided Anthony through many of his first experiences, including eating out at nice restaurants, learning to drive, his first airplane trip and applying for his first job.
Now, Anthony feels like he has a second family. And the feeling is mutual. “It’s kind of odd when he’s not around, and even our kids, and everybody,” said Sheffert. “I can’t imagine my life without him around. I don’t think anybody else can, either.”
‘He taught me skills’
Anthony went from a once-failing student to a high school graduate; he was the first in his family to graduate on time in almost 30 years. This summer he’s planning on entering the military.
“He taught me skills,” Anthony said confidently. “He’s the reason I’ve gotten my first few jobs. He’s given me the ability to look forward into the Army and pick careers that I could do. He’s taught me everything I need to know. Stuff I didn’t know before.”
At the graduation, the Sheffert family was there to share Anthony’s special moment. His unofficial adopted family beamed with excitement amid the traditional graduation music of “Pomp and Circumstance.” This once-failing student was preparing to receive his diploma with his fellow graduates.
“It’s incredible, if you were looking at my sophomore year compared to today, you would see a totally different kid,” Anthony said. “I think I’ve matured in every aspect of life. I’m graduating high school.”