Twelve-year-old J.J. Holmes begged his mother to drive him to a Donald Trump rally in Tampa, Florida, on Saturday. J.J., who has cerebral palsy, wanted to go and protest the Republican nominee’s treatment of people with disabilities.
Trump quickly ordered them out of the rally. His supporters responded by “chanting ‘U-S-A’ and pushing [J.J.’s] wheelchair,” Alison told The Washington Post.
“We were put out by security,” she said. “Mr. Trump kept saying, ‘Get them out.’”
As Alison spoke to the Post reporter, J.J., speaking with the help of a computer vocalization device, interjected. “I hate Donald Trump,” he said. “I hate Donald Trump.”
Less than 24 hours after J.J. was harassed and kicked out of the Trump rally, the 12-year-old boy shook hands with President Barack Obama.
The unexpected turn of events began to unfold when a reporter who witnessed J.J.’s experience at the Trump rally called Valentina Pereda, Clinton’s press secretary in Florida.
Pereda was horrified, she wrote in a Facebook post.
“What the hell could I do to make this child even slightly forget that experience?” she said she thought.
Pereda offered to escort J.J. and Alison to Clinton’s Sunday rally in Kissimmee, Florida, where Obama was scheduled to deliver one of his final campaign speeches before Tuesday’s election.
At the rally venue, Pereda decided that the area reserved for people in wheelchairs was too far from the stage. She wanted to get J.J. closer to the president. So she led J.J. and his mother through crowds of people, across muddy turf, to the VIP area near the stage, she said.
With the help of a White House staffer friend, Pereda was able to set up a brief meeting between J.J. and Obama. After the president’s speech, Pereda’s friend escorted them to the other side of the barricades that separated rally attendees from the stage. Obama leaned forward, shook J.J.’s hand and smiled for a photo.
J.J. was ecstatic. His smile was “almost bursting out of his face,” Pereda wrote ― “His body overcome by light, when just the day before it almost succumbed to hate.”
This article has been updated with information from Pereda’s Facebook post.