When he was 3, Watson native Levi Russell had big dreams of becoming a firefighter when he grew up.
Then, in July 2016, a Missouri man ambushed Baton Rouge-area law enforcement officers, killing three and injuring three others. Following the tragedy, Levi's grandmother Rosie Russell baked banana bread for a police officer who lived down the street as a show of love and support during a trying time.
Still too young to fully recognize what was happening, Levi accompanied his ‘Mimi’ to chat with their neighbor and deliver the baked goods. During their conversation, the officer presented the boy with a patch from one of his uniforms.
When they returned home, Levi told his grandmother, “I don’t want to be a firefighter anymore. I want to be a police officer.”
In no time, Levi had a police uniform of his own and spent his days blowing whistles, trying to direct traffic and riding around the neighborhood. Levi wanted to do more than play as a police officer in his neighborhood — he wanted to meet police officers in person and thank them for their service.
“His heroes are these men and women in blue,” Russell said. “He does not know who Spiderman is. He doesn’t know who Batman is.”
Russell made a batch of chocolate-covered pretzels to bring with them as gifts, and grandmother and grandson set off on what would be the first of dozens of trips to law enforcement offices across the state, and later the country. Russell estimates she and Levi's grandfather, Brett Overton, have given out thousands of pretzels in the last three years, all with Levi tagging along in his uniform with a bright grin on his face.
Levi became a fixture in precincts and departments around Livingston, and as he grew closer to his heroes, he wanted to do more.
In late 2018, Levi began to raise money for Angel Armor bulletproof vests, which Russell and Overton had spotted during a Capital Area Law Enforcement Foundation event. Levi wanted to find a way to better protect those who protect him, she said.
By the past April, Levi had raised $3,000 from family and friends — enough to purchase vests for Detective Ken McMorris and Deputy Katie Robbins from the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office.
At just age 6, Levi wants to equip as many local officers and deputies as possible with the vests. His fundraiser, called “Officer Levi’s Quests for Vests,” has its own Facebook page and bank account.
Angel Armor vests, according to the Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard, are lighter and said to have improved technology. Levi is raising money for the latest version.
McMorris said Levi made a huge impression on him when they met two years ago outside a Walmart. He was in uniform at a booth collecting donations for Christmas presents for families unable to afford their own when Levi approached the table holding a Ziploc bag filled with change that he had been saving up for the cause.
Moved by their initial encounter, McMorris said the two grew close, and when Levi picked him to receive an Angel Armor vest, he was honored Levi selected him out of all the officers and deputies he has befriended over the years.
“It meant a lot to me,” McMorris said. “He’s such a kind kid. I hope that he’ll have a big impact on the young generation coming up, and they’ll kind of follow his lead.”
Robbins, too, said receiving the vest was rewarding. She was surprised, she said, but grateful to have something to make her job a little easier every night.
“It was such a gracious gift,” Robbins said. “I thought he looked up to me, but I truly do look up to him. It’s blissful to see. That joy and passion for something puts me at a loss for words every time.”
Even as he tries to garner support for more vests, Levi and his Mimi refuse to sell the pretzels, and prefer to give them to officers to thank them for their service.
Russell said that they strictly rely on the kindness of friends and family to donate to his quest for vests. Still, Levi does all he can by himself to make every penny count. Between chores and savings, Levi gives everything he has as an endless donation to his heroes.
“He’s just a very caring, caring, big-hearted boy,” Russell said. “He’s also emptied out his piggy bank.”
Now, with a social media presence showcasing “Officer Levi’s Adventures,” and his regular trips to various law enforcement offices, Russell packs a bag of pretzels with her when she goes out with Levi — just to make sure they don’t miss an officer they see on duty. With Levi’s mission gaining local attention, Russell and Overton hope Levi will be able to reach his goal to supply as many officers as he can with new vests.
Russell said that when she and Overton see the positive reaction Levi has on officers and their families, it gives them strength so they can continue to support him, along with the law enforcement officers he loves.
“It’s just a little boy trying really big to try to protect his protectors,” she said. “He wants them to be able to go home at night to their families. He wants them to be safe while they’re protecting us.”