“Little A” made it home to Pennsylvania, dog-tired, weary of attention – but still smiling.
Alex Collins made it home after telling a teary-eyed “Big A” – Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood – before he left: “You’re the best sheriff in the whole world!”
Alex, the 9-year-old whose hunting trip with Underwood warmed the hearts of America, had a police escort through the Philadelphia International Airport and then to his home in nearby Chester County, Pa. TV cameras followed him, and strangers and even more cops wanted to take pictures with him.
“He’s a celebrity, but so tired,” mom Leslie Collins said. “He’s just a little boy.”
Alex became known as “Little A” after he and his mom, a single parent with a heart condition, read about a fishing and hunting trip with the sheriff of Chester County on Facebook in mid-December. The trip was for kids who had never gone into the woods.
So Alex wrote a letter saying his mom was too sick to take him, that he had nobody else to take him, and praying that the sheriff would pick him for the trip. His teacher, Jason Thompson, also wrote in, saying that “if any kid deserves this opportunity, it’s him.”
The problem was that hunting/fishing trip was with the Chester County sheriff in South Carolina, not the sheriff in Alex’s home of Chester County, Pa.
Once Underwood and his Pennsylvania counterpart, Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh discovered the mistake, they sprang into action by paying for the plane ride. Underwood and his deputies bought Alex hunting clothes and showered him with gear and love and attention. Alex then spent Monday through Wednesday hunting and fishing with Underwood.
He even stayed at Underwood’s house, where he counted “14 dogs and three horses.”
He didn’t bag a deer while hunting, but he did get to pet a pet deer, and he caught a fish.
The trip, written about in The Herald from mistake through plane ride home, was followed nationally online.
Underwood said he hopes to bring Alex back again this year for some duck hunting.
“I hate to see him go,” Underwood said. “I wish he could stay.”
“Little A” vowed to come back.
By the time Alex arrived home on a plane late on Wednesday, strangers were asking for pictures and Sheriff Welsh, who already was friends with Sheriff Underwood before the mix-up, rolled out the red carpet for his return. Hunt clubs in Pennsylvania have offered to take Alex out again. Other offers have come in from as far away as Montana and Florida.
Alex spent New Year’s Day with his family and is expected to be the coolest of the 27 kids in Thompson’s fourth-grade class at Fern Hill Elementary School on Monday. Alex plans to share his pictures and memories with the class.
Not much work will get done Monday morning.
“I fully expect him to wear his camouflage gear to school,” Thompson said. “People around here have taken to this wonderful story, too. With all that is going on around here and in the country, the negatives, Alex’s story about his dream coming true and all the people who made it happen was bigger than all that.
“People needed a lift, they needed something positive to show how people care for each other – and ‘Little A’ and ‘Big A’ gave it to them.”