The family of a 14-year-old boy in Texas is speaking out after neighbors called the police on him.
Last Sunday, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office responded to call about a person walking around in a military uniform while carrying a gun in the Falcons Landing neighborhood, which is just outside of San Antonio. When police arrived, they encountered 14-year-old Diego Mercado, a young military buff and congenital amputee who had been out with his airsoft rifle, a type of air gun and replica toy weapon. Mercado has been wearing camos since he was 6 years old.
“What kind of surprised me is that I've been here for a year,” Mercado, who was born with one leg and just two fingers on his right hand, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I've been outside every day and I'm well known to this community, and two officers show up at my door and ask me if I'm the kid walking around with an AR [Armalite rifle], that's what the surprising part is.”
After explaining that he’d been wearing camos but was not armed with a gun, the teen was not cited and said that the deputies were very understanding. The minimum age to be able to carry an Airsoft gun is 16 in San Antonio, but since Mercado was outside of the city limits, he had not broken any laws.
“I knew this would happen eventually. A new resident comes in, I look like a soldier, you see a guy walking around with an AR, I understand that, but it has a big orange tip at the end,” Mercado said.
Though this was the first time that the police were called, this was not the first time neighbors had been concerned with the teen’s appearance.
The Mercados moved into their new neighborhood last year while Diego’s father, Jason, was stationed in Afghanistan. While overseas, Jason had happened to come across a post about Diego on the community Facebook page that seemed to paint a fearful image of him.
“I set the record straight,” Jason said. “I've gone through great lengths to inform them that he’s a kid and this is what he likes to do and I support him in that, and help them understand the reasons why he does what he does.”
Because he was born with amniotic band syndrome, the boy is unable to follow in the military footsteps of his father, who has been on active duty in the Army for 20 years. But he has pursued his passion by wearing the uniform since he was a young child. He has also worked with amputee veterans and went viral in 2016 after posting a video to Instagram of a workout session he had with one of the vets.
For Mercado, the military gear he dons on a daily basis is more than just for play.
“I've always seen my dad put on his uniform and head out to work, and that's always inspired me because he defends our country, and I've always wanted to defend our country,” he admitted.
Though the teen expressed a bit of apprehension about continuing to walk around the neighborhood, he and his father agreed they could continue to educate the community.
“I just want them to feel safe and comfortable with me walking around,” Mercado said. “And I don't want to be seen as a threat. I just want to be seen as a friend to this neighborhood. I want to know everybody. I just want everybody to be friends.”
Jason said he hoped his son’s story would inspire others.
“We have an entire country filled with other Diegos,” Jason explained. “There's kids with special needs that want to be a part of the community [and] I think Diego represents that. When [children] see this story, one, they'll say ‘I can do that too’ and two, they will say, ‘this is how he did it, so we now we have a formula for success.’”
Since the initial complaint, Diego has been invited to a SWAT training in the spring with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.
The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has not yet responded to Yahoo Lifestyle's request for comment, but confirmed to WOAI/KABB that they received a complaint last Sunday.