PEORIA, Ill. | Zach Edington dusted for fingerprints in the crime lab and met a police dog as part of a behind-the-scenes look at the Peoria County Sheriff's Department one recent afternoon.
At 4 foot 5 inches, the teen needed a boost to peek into the cells, but the tour is one step toward accomplishing his dream of one day becoming an officer, specifically a member of the SWAT team.
"I like to help people and I've been a fan of it for a long time," said the Hanna City boy, 13.
Zach has Noonan syndrome, a genetic disorder that prevents normal development in various parts of the body, according to the Mayo Clinic. Though he's small even compared to his middle school classmates, doctors guess he won't grow much more.
As part of his tour Wednesday, Zach checked out the armored vehicles used by the Central Illinois Emergency Response Team — CIERT is the equivalent of a SWAT team — and tried on a 20-pound bulletproof vest that's nearly one-third of his body weight.
He knows other people may doubt him, but Zach doesn't let teasing classmates or those who don't understand the complicated disease distract him from his dreams.
"I just don't listen to them," he said.
Zach was able to see most of the expansive facility in the two-hour tour, from where inmates are processed into the jail and held to where detectives conduct investigations.
"Some people compare it to a city," said Brian Asbell, the corrections superintendent. "It's more like a battleship because we have to go outside for supplies."
Zach's mother Gretchen Edington set up the special trip so he could see all the different ways he could be involved in police work, whether as a SWAT team member or another of the many jobs needed to run a police or sheriff's department.
"Size doesn't matter if you have the heart to do it and the will power," she said. "His ability doesn't come from his size."
Zach even had the chance to meet the county's top law enforcement official and take home an official emergency services badge.
"We're always looking for kids like Zach. I understand that Zach gets pretty good grades and pays attention," Sheriff Mike McCoy said. "We've got an application ready for Zach when he's ready to work here."