For a third year in a row, none of Daniel Nicastro's classmates sent an RSVP for his birthday party. But this time, his parents were ready.
A few days before the bash, they hand-delivered an invitation to their local police department, home to the men and women Daniel "truly believes are superheroes," according to his mom.
They explained their family was throwing a party for their soon-to-be 8-year-old son, who has autism, and said that having the Florida officers there would help make up for the classmates who wouldn't attend.
"We weren't really expecting much, maybe for one or two to show up. Nothing big, just a couple of officers making a show to say 'Hi,'" Carolyn Nicastro told TODAY.
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But on Sunday, June 12, more than a half dozen patrol cars from the North Port Police Department filed into the lot of a local park where Daniel's relatives were celebrating his birthday. The sight sent the birthday boy into shock.
"He just stood and stared. He couldn't believe what he saw," Nicastro said. Eventually, Daniel warmed up and greeted everyone.
"He still says it was the best birthday party ever. His real friends, the superheroes, showed up. He didn't notice his classmates weren't there," she said.
In all, seven officers attended, bringing with them an array of gifts — various loose-leaf and hardbound comic books and a Marvel Avengers watch.
"His face just lit up. It was all the holidays rolled up into one. I've never seen him happier," his mother said.
Nicastro said for the past two years, she and her husband have watched their son cry over the lack of children wanting to attend his birthday party. This year, they decided to hold a birthday party with just family members, but Daniel still wanted to invite some friends from school.
"But as the day got closer, it was just déjà vu. Again, nobody was calling," Nicastro said. "And me and my husband sat down with each other and said, 'We can't let this happen again.'"
That's when she had the idea of reaching out to the police department, since her son "absolutely adores" them, along with all other emergency responders.The North Port police officers who attended didn't draw attention to their visit but word quickly spread after a photo — sent by Daniel's mother to the department to thank them for their kindness — got posted on Facebook. The post generated thousands of supportive comments from all over the world.
Sgt. Paul Neugebauer said he and other officers who stopped by simply wanted "to make this boy's birthday and nothing else really."
But he's not surprised at the response the department has seen.
"In my experience, the smallest things, the more unintentional, less contrived things are the most rewarding things, and obviously, we hit pay dirt with this one," he said.
The response to the story has not only generated memories of the best birthday party ever, it's also yielded new friends for Daniel.
"People have reached out and wanted to have some playdates and meet up with him," Nicastro said. "Daniel has just been having the best week. He's smiling all the time, asking when he can go on other playdates."
The outpouring of support has prompted several police department employees to arrange, on their personal time, a community birthday party for Daniel and any other child who has gone through similar situations. Local businesses have donated food, drinks and entertainment services for the July 3 event, which will be held at a local park."It's just been overwhelming. Every time I tell the story, it's like, wow — somebody is doing this for my son," Nicastro said.
She understands that Daniel's behavior might be difficult for other children to understand, but she hopes parents will help explain and demonstrate by example how to act more sympathetically to children with special needs.
"I hope they can be a little more open-minded. In Daniel's case, it's not his fault. This is not something he chose to have, it's something he was born with," she said. "He never expects anything. He just wants to be around people. Your presence is his present. That's what we tell people."