A despicable act of bullying shook a special needs man and his community—but some inspiring acts of kindness from strangers helped to make things right.
Michael Cadena, a 27-year-old from Riverside, California, was born with Apert syndrome, a genetic disorder involving the premature fusion of certain bones, including the cranium.
As a result Michael is developmentally disabled and looks a bit different, but has grown into an independent young man. He takes the bus and rides his scooter around town, and has a job at a local thrift store.
He’s a huge fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and wears the team’s logo proudly almost everywhere.
His parents knew that Michael would occasionally be the target of bullying, and cautioned him to stay on guard and stand up for himself.
“We’ve taught Michael to be careful out there, not to talk to strangers,” his mother Sylvia Cadena told the Press-Enterprise. “We told him, ‘Don’t be a bully and don’t be bullied.’”
But sometimes the bullies are hard to avoid. On an April 12 trip to a local Target, Michael saw some men in the parking lot who he knew were up to no good.
One man demanded his Dodgers hat—and when Michael refused, the bully shoved him and stole it.
“I was scared and nervous and frightened,” Michael told NBC Los Angeles.
The suspect was caught on a security camera, walking out of the store with Michael’s hat on.
Despite getting mugged, his parents were glad that he didn’t give it up willingly:
“I’m proud of him,” Sylvia said. “Proud for speaking up and saying what was in his heart and mind.”
People were shocked by the story, and while no one has been brought to justice for the mugging, the community rallied around Michael to make things right.
Michael started getting sent Dodgers hats and tickets!
New caps and jerseys began pouring in from strangers to make up for the lost cap. One good Samaritan even donated tickets to the Dodgers’ game against the Miami Marlins.
However, the best surprise came from the Dodgers themselves.
The team was shocked by what happened to their big fan, so they invited him to a game.
“We’re very excited to host him,” vice president of external affairs and community relations Naomi Rodriguez said. “We really wanted to tell him that we love him, and he’s not alone.”
But he didn’t just go to the game—he threw out the first pitch!
Michael made his MLB debut at the May 29 game against the Phillies.
With his own personal Dodgers uniform, Michael stepped up to the plate and tossed the ceremonial pitch to his favorite player, All Star first baseman Cody Bellinger.
“He made out like a champ,” his father, Joe Cadena, told the Press-Enterprise. “He’s on cloud 9 right now. He’s beyond words.”
— Michael J. Duarte (@michaeljduarte) May 30, 2018
It’s an inspiring end to the story, and goes to show that for every heartless bully in the world there are plenty of people who make it a better place.
“It’s unfortunate that this happened, for someone to target someone so innocent and vulnerable,” Sylvia said. “But lots of love has come out of this.”
“We’re really grateful for the community, grateful for the support.”
Bully Caught on Camera: How Los Angeles Dodgers fans rallied behind the special needs victim and who police are searching for, tonight on the NBC4 News at 11. http://4.nbcla.com/CCtgTc3
Posted by NBC LA on Tuesday, April 24, 2018