For months, 5-year-old Rylinn Ross hoped that Santa Claus would bring her daddy, Air Force Staff Sergeant Jacob Ross, home for Christmas. "If anyone can talk Uncle Sam into it, I just know it will be Santa," Rylinn told her mother. Ross has been deployed to South Korea for more than seven months.
Though his deployment does not end until this May, Ross was granted a 28-day leave to come home. So to surprise Rylinn and her big sister, Aurora, 6, Alleasha Ross contacted the property manager at the Platte River Mall near their home in North Platte, Nebraska, and asked if the mall's Santa Claus could help her pull off Rylinn's Christmas wish. "Thankfully, due to a lot of help from kind people, we were able to make it happen," Ross told TODAY Parents.
The girls had no idea their father was coming home. "We talk a lot about how Daddy will be home in the spring after school ends," said Ross. "Neither saw it coming now at all."
The evening of Dec. 16, Ross took Aurora and Rylinn to the Platte River Mall, dressed in their Christmas best, and the girls had the chance to climb up on Santa's lap. The Platte River Mall has had the same Santa Claus, Larry Covey, for 19 years, the mall's property manager, Cassie Condon, told TODAY Parents. He is widely recognized as the "local legit Santa," one who can make wishes come true.
When the big moment came, Aurora asked Santa for a Baby Alive doll for Christmas, but Rylinn asked Santa, "Can you bring my daddy home?"
"Well, you know what? We'll see what we can do with the Baby Alive," Santa told Aurora, "But I think the elves sent me something special in the sleigh."
That's when the girls spotted their father peeking around Santa's shoulder. With "I'll Be Home for Christmas" playing on the mall's sound system in the background — a happy coincidence, Condon swears — the girls were reunited with their dad. "How about that? Is that a Christmas present, or what?" Santa asked as the girls hugged Ross.
"I cried as soon as I heard Aurora take that big gasp of air," said Alleasha. "The last seven and a half months have been hard on them, and there are no words for how much they miss him. But in that moment it all changed. He was home with them again."
"We were very privileged that we got to witness this in person," said Condon. "It was a blessing to be a part of it."
Little Aurora turned to Santa, mid-hug. "Thank you," she said. "You're welcome," he answered. Something tells us that Baby Alive doll won't be her favorite Christmas gift she received this year.