Police show support for boy, 4, whose mother was slain in Athol

  • Jaiden “J.J.” Clifford smiles while sitting in a police car. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Jaiden "J.J." Clifford, 4, of Leominster, was surprised with a special police parade with officers from 10 departments from across the state, plus State Police. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Jaiden "J.J." Clifford, 4, of Leominster, was surprised with a special police parade with officers from 10 departments from across the state, plus State Police. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Jaiden “J.J.” Clifford, 4, of Leominster, was surprised with a special police parade with officers from 10 departments from across the state, plus State Police. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Jaiden "J.J." Clifford, 4, of Leominster, was surprised with a special police parade with officers from 10 departments from across the state, plus State Police. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/28/2019 1:00:23 AM
Modified: 12/28/2019 1:00:13 AM

LEOMINSTER — Jaiden “J.J.” Clifford smiled from ear to ear when he sat behind the wheel of a real police cruiser, a Massachusetts State Police “cover” sitting atop his head. 

J.J., 4, lost his mother, Kelsey Clifford, last month when she was found murdered in Athol. Knowing what it would mean to him, 10 police departments from across the state, as well as State Police, decided to brighten up his Christmas with blue lights. 

Sunday, police surprised J.J. with gifts and a parade of cruisers. For about an hour, he got to hang out with his heroes, wear police gear, meet a comfort K-9 and sit in the driver’s seat of a police car. 

“He wants to be a police officer when he grows up. It’s all he talks about. That’s all he likes,” said Diana Clifford Owens, J.J.’s mother’s aunt.

J.J. is currently living with his grandparents, Owens said. The family was contacted by police after a local officer, Danny Contois of the Leominster Police Department and president of the Leominster Police Association, learned the little boy loved police — especially the uniforms and cruisers.

Owens said the family knew there would be something “small” in terms of a police showing for J.J., but they did not expect the turnout the parade received. 

“We were overwhelmed by how many police showed up. We didn’t expect that,” she said. “It was heartwarming.”

Police officers from Athol, Fitchburg, Gardner, Lancaster, Leominster, Littleton, Lunenburg, Orange, Westminster and Winchendon, plus State Police, participated in surprising J.J. outside his grandparents’ home.

In addition to gifts individual officers had bought for J.J., Vincent Pusateri II, city solicitor for Fitchburg, gave J.J. a green bicycle.

“We’re all extremely overwhelmed with the kindness that has been shown to our family,” Owens said.

Owens described J.J. as a happy child who, with the rest of the family, is trying to deal with the tragic loss of his mother.

His smile was big and obvious throughout the surprise parade.

“He’s a happy, up-beat kid,” Owens said. “He loves police, loves everything to do with police.”

J.J.’s mother, Clifford, 26, was found dead Nov. 11 in Athol. Police responded to the wastewater treatment plant on Jones Street early that morning after receiving a report about a vehicle with the doors open and possibly a person lying on the ground next to it. 

Her son’s fourth birthday was only about a week prior.  

At a candlelight vigil in Leominster on Nov. 17, Clifford was remembered by friends and family as having a beautiful smile and laugh, and a warming presence. One friend recalled that Clifford was the person who talked her out of committing suicide. 

Keith Hamel, 23, was arrested in downtown Athol on Nov. 18 and charged with murdering Clifford. At his arraignment in Orange District Court, prosecutors said video surveillance shows Clifford with Hamel at a Cumberland Farms in the early hours of Nov. 11, suggesting he was the last person to see her alive. Hamel is being held at the Franklin County House of Correction, and is due back in court Feb. 14. 

According to Owens, the entire family is sticking together, committed to helping raise J.J.

“The family is hanging in there. We’re a tight-knit group and we’re all doing the best we can to help (Clifford’s parents),” she said. 

Owens added that an important lesson can be learned from the kindness the many police officers showed J.J. this last weekend. 

“There’s good people left in this world,” she said.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.


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