Strangers give Four-year-old sunshine on first wholesome birthday

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – To get to northern Virginia in time to shock a boy he had by no means met, Shannon Rogish couldn’t simply roll away from bed and drive a number of miles.

He needed to plan.

He needed to take the break day, get up to a still-black sky and drive for hours.

The map app advised him it will take about three hours to get there from his residence in Staunton, Virginia. So on Tuesday, he went to mattress at 7 p.m., and on Wednesday, he awoke by 2 a.m. and was on the street by three.

“I used to be simply praying the entire time as I used to be driving that I wouldn’t hit something and that visitors wouldn’t be that unhealthy,” he stated whereas sitting in his automotive, a Mountain Dew within the middle console, simply in case he wanted the caffeine. “And I acquired fortunate with all that.”

Rogish’s 2015 Camaro was among the many 100-plus yellow automobiles that lined a number of blocks of an Alexandria neighbourhood on Wednesday morning, offering a shiny second on an in any other case solemn day. Later, throughout the area and nation, there could be remembrances for individuals who had been misplaced on Sept. 11, 2001. However for a number of hours, at this speck on the map, strangers got here collectively to have fun a life.

Greater than 100 yellow vehicles line the streets close to the Whitaker residence in Alexandria, Virginia, in Alexandria, Virginia, on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. (Photograph for The Washington Submit by Astrid Riecken)

Astrid Riecken /

For The Washington Submit

They got here to shock a boy who turned Four that day and was wholesome for the primary time ever on his birthday.

“I’m simply doing it as a result of I wish to see the child smile,” stated Rogish, a volunteer firefighter and an engineer at a producing plant. “I can solely think about the hell he’s gone by way of.”

That hell started simply weeks after Whitaker Weinburger’s first birthday. A blood take a look at led to a regarding name from his pediatrician, and shortly, his mom, Erin Weinburger, was sitting within the hospital, listening to a health care provider inform her that her 13-month-old had Stage Four neuroblastoma.

After a double stem-cell transplant, just one doubtlessly regarding spot now stays on Whitaker’s scans and he’s wholesome sufficient to attend preschool.

When his mom and his father, Seth Weinburger, first began speaking about easy methods to make his stroll to high school particular on his birthday, their thought centered on a single yellow automotive. Whitaker typically begs them to drive by one of their neighbourhood as a result of it reminds him of Bumblebee, a personality from the Transformers cartoon and film sequence. They thought-about asking their neighbor to park in entrance of their home on Whitaker’s birthday.

Then, Erin Weinburger took that concept additional. She posted a name for yellow vehicles on a personal Fb web page. That request then made its method onto different pages, into the information media and onto the calendars of extra yellow-vehicle house owners than she ever anticipated.

Erin Weinburger carries her son Whitaker subsequent to and Whitaker’s father, Seth, left, on their option to faculty whereas passing by greater than 100 yellow vehicles lining the streets close to the Whitaker residence in Alexandria, Virginia, on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Photograph for The Washington Submit by Astrid Riecken.

Astrid Riecken /

For The Washington Submit

When she thought 50 drivers would possibly present up, she advised me, “I hope that every one these those that come join with one another, too, as a result of they’re seeing one thing nice. They’re seeing one thing nice in one another.”

On Wednesday, greater than 100 got here. I want I may let you know precisely what number of, however it was not possible to rely all of them. There have been bulldozers and buses, Camaros and Corvettes. There have been yellow cabs with “Glad Birthday” balloons dangling exterior their home windows.

There was even a child-size yellow Tesla with an Autobot image on its hood and “Whitaker” on its license plate.

Pratik Sharma, of Ashburn, Virginia, stated his good friend purchased it for Whitaker as a present. Sharma advised me this whereas sporting a head-to-toe Bumblebee costume.

Are you a Bumblebee fan? I requested.

“I’m in the present day,” he stated, “for Whitaker.”

Doug Hoyles additionally got here with presents for the kid. He positioned three toy vehicles, nonetheless of their packing containers, on a wagon that he hooked up to a remote-control automotive.

Hoyles, who lives in Ashburn, loves vehicles and loves yellow, so when Erin Weinburger’s Fb put up began spreading, he heard about it from “possibly 70 or 80 folks.”

Three of the vehicles that lined the roads close to the household’s home belonged to him. He drove his Camaro, his spouse drove his Charger and good friend Pete Lapp drove his Ram.

Lapp, who’s an FBI agent, described the celebratory environment as a welcome distinction to different recollections from Sept. 11. Eighteen years earlier, he spent 9/11 interviewing a girl who, throughout a resort keep, noticed one of many planes crash.

Kids await the arrival of Whitaker Weinburger at Charles Barrett Elementary Faculty in Alexandria, Virginia, on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, to have fun his fourth birthday. (Photograph for The Washington Submit by Astrid Riecken)

Astrid Riecken /

For The Washington Submit

“It is a good reminiscence for all of us,” Lapp stated.

When Whitaker lastly walked out his entrance door together with his mother, dad and sister, he noticed neighbors waving indicators, folks in yellow garments standing by yellow vehicles and cameras, so many cameras, pointed at him. He ducked for a second behind his sister, Lakeland, after which held her hand and walked to the entrance of his yard.

“Let’s all sing!” somebody yelled, and the group broke into “Glad Birthday.”

Quickly, Whitaker was smiling and taking within the surreal scene whereas strolling to high school with an entourage of acquainted and unusual faces.

“Bumblebee!” he squealed, adopted by “Bumblebee! Bumblebee!”

“Thanks,” he and his dad and mom stated repeatedly.

“It’s overwhelming. It’s wonderful,” his grandfather Terry Weinburger stated as we walked collectively at one level. “And it’s only a demonstration of what I might name the worth of neighborhood, of individuals caring.”

The Alexandria Sheriff’s Workplace took on the robust activity of directing drivers into parking spots alongside the route, and when the automobiles had been lastly in place, they stretched for greater than mile, all the way in which to Charles Barrett Elementary Faculty. When Whitaker lastly arrived, he discovered the scholars ready exterior to see him and instructor Melissa Poggio directing visitors whereas dressed as Bumblebee.

The group sang “Glad Birthday” as soon as extra, after which, it was time for the group celebration to finish. Whitaker needed to get to class.

The drivers additionally needed to get going. Some had lengthy stretches of street forward of them.

Rogish, who has participated in charitable drives by way of Rally North America, deliberate to drive straight residence. He stated the three hours he spent attending to Alexandria and the three hours he would spend leaving it had been “most actually” price it.

He moved his automotive twice whereas the household walked, so he may catch glimpses of Whitaker.

“He had an enormous ol’ smile on his face each instances he handed me,” he stated. “The child has a number of vitality, and that was good to see.”