There’s nothing like getting your license and driving for the first time as a teenager, and there’s always something special about the first car you call your own.
While most teenagers dream of getting a brand new car instead of their parents’ old one, 15-year-old Justin Rozier, from Moore, Texas is different. He wanted a car that had meaning for him: He wanted the car that used to belong to his dad.
His father, Army 1st Lt. Jonathan Rozier, was killed in Iraq in 2003. Justin was less than a year old.
He never got to know his father in person, but Justin felt he could bond with his father in some way through one of his possessions.
So when it came time to get a car, he asked his mom if he could have one of his.
“I don’t know, just knowing that he had it—it’s a whole lot different than just any other thing,” Justin explained to CBS News.
The late Lt. Rozier drove a ’99 Toyota Celica. But unfortunately, it was long gone. Justin’s mother, Jessica Johns, had to sell the car shortly after her husband’s death.
“I didn’t want to keep chipping away at my savings to pay for a car that nobody was using,” she recalled to NBC News. “It was just sitting in my driveway.”
“I wasn’t thinking ahead to when Justin would be driving 15 years later,” she wrote.
Still, she knew the car would mean a lot to her son. She told CBS News that he didn’t care how old the car was as long as it was his dad’s.
“I know that he wishes his dad was here,” she said.
“I feel like this is something that would connect him.”
Since the car was long gone, Johns needed some more information in order to find it again. In August, she happened to be searching her house for a birth certificate when she came across the old Toyota’s registration.
Johns realized this was, just maybe, enough to track down the car and give it to Justin for his birthday.
“I wonder if this car is still out there?” Johns told NBC News. “I was thinking I would go on a years-long search to find this car.”
But maybe there was an easier way. Johns decided to post the registration and a photo of the car to her Facebook page, hoping someone would see it and have some info about its whereabouts. It was a long shot, but Johns decided to give it a try.
“I’ve seen magical things happen on Facebook,” Johns told CBS News.
Her post was shared 135 times (although she kept it hidden from her son, wanting it to be a surprise if she ever found the car). It spread far enough that it eventually reached the town of Pleasant Grove, Utah.
And soon, Johns got a call from someone who knew where the car was.
The woman on the phone told Johns that her father was in possession of the car. She gave her the phone number—but told her not to get her hopes up about a sale. She didn’t know if he’d be willing to part with the car.
Johns was reluctant to dial the number.
“If I call and he doesn’t want to sell it then my hopes would be crushed,” Johns told NBC News.
“It took me 12 hours to get the courage to call him.”
To her relief, the owner understood her situation—and he said he was open to selling the car
“I think that your son will get more enjoyment out of having his dad’s car than I would,” Johns recalled the man saying.
However, Johns still needed the money to buy the car—and the car was in need of a refurbishing. The costs would add up.
Luckily, some kind strangers stepped up and got involved.
Kyle Fox, also from Utah, runs a nonprofit called Follow the Flag. When he heard about the story, he decided to use his organization to help Johns out.
“We decided, let’s see if we can buy the car,” Fox told CBS News. “I’m always trying to do something like that to serve.”
Fox was able to raise the funds to buy the vehicle for the Johns family. Not only that, he put together a team of volunteer mechanics to help restore the car like new.
“It’s what we do. It’s something we do in hopes of inspiring others,” Fox told NBC News.
The project took about a month and a half to complete—but the car looked brand-new, just in time for Justin’s recent birthday.
It was time for the big surprise.
Justin was celebrating at home with his family and friends. He had no idea what was coming … until the car pulled up in his driveway. Fox had driven the car himself all the way from Utah.
Justin stared at the car, not sure what to think, and then his mom told him to go check it out.
Johns began to tear up as she watched her son get into her late husband’s car, and watched her son’s face light up as he realized what it was.
“I was waiting for him, for it to click that’s dad’s car,” Johns told NBC News.
“He starts looking at it, gets in, he looks so much like his dad.”
She told NBC that seeing her son in the car brought a flood of bittersweet memories.
“I never got to see him come home. So that just one moment right there was—I think I needed that.”
Justin was thrilled to be reunited with his father’s car, but he was also overwhelmed with emotion.
He was literally speechless.
Lt. Rozier tragically never got to see Justin experience any of the milestones of growing up.
But, with the help of some strangers, he was able to get his son his first car.
Watch the heartwarming video below: