A 13-year-old Peterborough boy Odin Camus wanted to celebrate his birthday with poutine and bowling, but no one answered his invitation to his birthday party. So his mother launched a Facebook campaign and the world responded. Odin Camus, 13, became an instant celebrity Friday.
It was his birthday. He arrived at Lakeview Bowl in Peterborough, Ont. in a white stretch limo, with a gaggle of reporters ready to take his photo as he emerged. Hundreds of people rushed forward to give him presents and cards. One woman breathlessly pressed a $100 bill in his hand.
How'd he get famous overnight?
Odin is an ordinary kid from Peterborough who happens to have Asperger's syndrome. And when he invited about 15 friends to come hang out with him at the bowling alley for his birthday Friday night, none of them RSVP'd.
His mother, Melissa Camus, wrote about it on a Facebook event for local mothers. She posted her son's cellphone number -- she'd gotten him a cellphone for his birthday -- and asked the moms to send Odin a text to cheer him up.
The members of the Moms' Swap and Buy did more than that: they spread the message online until Odin received more than 5,000 texts from goodhearted strangers. Hours later Odin's birthday was trending on Twitter, prompting hundreds of strangers to come to the bowling alley bearing gifts.
#odinbirthday was the top trending topic on Twitter in Canada on Friday night. Twitter Canada estimated more than 11,000 birthday greetings for Odin were posted.
In person at the bowling alley, there were children with their parents, local firefighters and police, childcare workers and university students. Nobody seemed to know Odin, but they all wanted to offer him a gift and take a selfie with him.
Odin, a 7th grader at Highland Heights Public School and a sea cadet, grinned as he stepped out of his limousine to see the crowd.
"It's amazing how people care. I feel absolutely amazing," he said. It had made him feel "a bit lonely" that none of his friends had responded to his birthday party invitation, he said.
But to see the crowds of strangers there with gifts was "extraordinary." Odin said he's been bullied before, but perhaps now he'll no longer have to be put up with being snubbed. "Now the bullies will have a second glance at me," he said.
On Friday birthday tweets were sent to Odin from members of the Raptors, the Blue Jays and the Maple Leafs.
Justin Trudeau tweeted him. So did actor Elijah Wood, the actor best known for playing Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. This impressed Odin's mother, Melissa: "I said to him, 'A Hobbit tweeted you!'" she said, laughing.
Before the bowling alley, Odin and his parents ate poutine at the Whistle Stop Cafe, where about 35 strangers were assembled in a party room to eat dinner with him.
Restaurant owner Peggy Shaughnessy announced there that she was naming poutine No. 9 on the menu after Odin. Melissa describes her son as socially awkward at times -- but also remarkably smart and strong.
She says people love him - and she was hoping people would send him a few texts to remind him of that on his birthday. Instead they got a huge outpouring of love.
"Honestly, Odin and I have been pretty much crying all day," Melissa said, wiping away a tear as she stood outside the limo. "People are here because everyone knows a kid who struggles to fit in," she said. "It's not new. It sucks for the kid. But everyone can relate."
She says the message she hopes it all communicates to her son is that "school is not everything. The kids at school are not your life." "You don't have to be bummed out -- no matter how down you feel, there's always someone there. Always," she said.
When people finally made their way up the stairs to the second-storey bowling alley in Market Plaza on George St., the place was packed. Jessica Biggar and her husband Ryan Cecchetto were there. Cecchetto is a psychology professor at both Trent University and Fleming College, and he has Asperger's too.
Biggar urged her husband to come with her as soon as she heard about the party. "I said, 'We should go. You've been there!'" she told her husband. Erik Milan, 12, was there with his mother Haley Milan. Erik doesn't know Odin, but his best friend has Asperger's.
"I heard he (Odin) was getting bullied," Erik said. "I thought it would be nice to come, and to bring him something." Erik brought a card. So did many others. He also had a banquet table piled high with gifts, inside the bowling alley.
Odin's stepfather, Rafael Albornoz, said he was overwhelmed. "I just hope everyone sees how special these kids are," he said. "Odin's such a great kid with such a big heart."