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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / From left, Jason Hill tussles his son Riley's hair, while older brother Christian Hill holds sister, Liberty Mason, mom Amanda Mason, and grandmother Kim Gardner enjoy the cars of the parade.

When Amanda Mason got the call that her son's Make-A-Wish trip to Disney World and Universal Studios was cancelled, the whole family was sorely disappointed. Young Riley, especially, had been looking forward to seeing the new Star Wars exhibit at Disney's Galaxy's Edge attraction.

But the trip, scheduled for April 19-27, had to be put on an indefinite hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe.

Learning of the family's heartbreak, Riley's community came together to bring Star Wars to him, and threw the boy a Star Wars-themed parade right in front of his house.

Riley was born with a genetic disorder known as Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The disease, which predominantly affects males, causes the deterioration of the body's muscles. This can eventually lead to scoliosis and impaired heart and lung function. Those who suffer with this condition have a life expectancy of teenage years to their 20s, according to healthline.com.

Riley, 10, can no longer walk on his own and uses a wheelchair.

School offers the chance for him to be social — he has taken a great liking to a few of his teachers, his mother said — and he also enjoys the daily routine, but even those institutions have been shut down due to the spread of the coronavirus. He hasn't been able to go to his physical and speech therapies either.

"He was very upset that school was canceled," Mason said.

Though his mom said Riley has been "rolling with the punches" through all of this, his spirits have been down.

"I told him that Make-A-Wish called and that he will get his wish once this is all over," she said. "He didn't know when the trip was supposed to be so he doesn't know he actually missed it. That's a saving grace in all this."

Deciding everyone needed a pick-me-up and knowing that Riley had been itching to see the new Star Wars section at Disney, his mother went on social media and posted an idea about having a small parade drive by.

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Riley Hill Surprised by Birthday Parade

"I put a post up on Facebook and the idea took off overnight," said Mason. "It was just supposed to be a small neighborhood thing. I called the Catoosa police department to make sure that we were allowed to do this, and [the department] ended up wanting to be involved in it too."

Soon, family, friends and neighbors, the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office and Fire Department, Riley's school teachers and his mother's co-workers had all volunteered to be part of the Star Wars parade that rolled by his house on the last Sunday afternoon in March.

"I was absolutely surprised by the turnout," Mason said. "I knew there were going to be a few but I didn't realize there were going to be so many."

Riley, too, was happily surprised.

It started with a couple of siren blasts from the first few cops. Riley's family urged him to go outside to see what was going on. Soon, there were countless Darth Vaders, Jedi knights and smiling faces — none of them rivaling Riley's — as he sat and watched a parade made just for him march through his neighborhood.

"It definitely lifted his spirits," Mason said. "It lifted everybody's spirits.

"We are all very humbled by the love that they gave him. I want to thank them all from the bottom of my heart. I want to thank the whole of Catoosa County for everything they've done."

Contact Carley Olejniczak at carleyolejniczak@gmail.com.

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