Soldier ends yearlong Afghanistan tour with surprise visit to children’s play

Thirteen-year-old Joshua Mariello hugs his father, Richard Mariello, Friday night at the Old Orchard Beach High School cafeteria. His brother, Jeremiah Mariello, and sister, Bobbie Elwell, are also pictured welcoming their father home from a year-long deployment in Afghanistan.
Liz Gotthelf | Journal Tribune
Thirteen-year-old Joshua Mariello hugs his father, Richard Mariello, Friday night at the Old Orchard Beach High School cafeteria. His brother, Jeremiah Mariello, and sister, Bobbie Elwell, are also pictured welcoming their father home from a year-long deployment in Afghanistan.
Posted Jan. 16, 2012, at 2:17 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 16, 2012, at 5:27 p.m.

OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine — There was an unexpected twist to the student production of the murder mystery “Murder at the Pie Auction” at the Old Orchard Beach High School cafeteria Friday night.

It was revealed when an actor ran in the cafeteria and announced, “There’s a body in the freezer!” The actor was Richard Mariello, who had just come home after serving a year in Afghanistan in the Army, to the surprise of his children, who thought he was in Germany. Shortly after his arrival, the play broke for intermission, and the family gathered for a happy reunion.

The stunned children were, understandably, somewhat at a loss for words in the moments after his arrival.

“I’m a little shaky,” said 15-year-old daughter Bobbie Elwell. “I can’t find the words in my head.”

But words weren’t necessary to convey the emotions of the family, whose joy was apparent through happy shrieks, tears, hugs and smiles.

“I am so happy,” said 13-year-old Joshua Mariello, “I thought he wasn’t coming home until February.”

The children were so sure their father wasn’t coming home until next month, they said, that when he first burst into the room, they didn’t think it was him.

“It took a second to click that it was him,” said 15-year-old Jeremiah.

Richard has been serving as an Army Specialist with the Army Reserves 368th Engineers Battalion.

To help keep the secret, a friend in Richard’s battalion had been communicating with Jeremiah on Facebook, pretending he was in Germany and telling him how the weather was.

Richard’s wife, Lynn, had worked with drama teacher Amy Wright to pull off the surprise, and Richard hid in the janitor’s closet until his moment came to join the play. Both Richard and Lynn said they weren’t sure whether they were going to be able to pull it off, but everything came together.

Was he happy to see his family?

“Yes, with a capital Y-E-S,” he said. “It’s been a long year.”

Daughter Josie Mariello, 17, was onstage as pie-baking diva Julia Lyle when her father burst into the room. Through her excitement, she managed to keep her composure onstage and after intermission pulled off her role without a hitch.

“It’s definitely an adrenaline rush,” she said.

Josie was not the only family member involved in the play — Jeremiah worked on the crew and Elwell had a small role as a bidder in an audience interactive “pie auction.”

“They’re such a nice family,” said Wright. “It’s really neat to be able to do this.”

Eloise Jasper was among friends of the Mariellos from Seacoast Chapel church who were in on the secret. She described the Mariellos as a “very nice, very close family.”

“It’s very exciting,” she said, and likened the evening to the military homecoming show, “Coming Home.”

“It’s a special kind of homecoming,” she said.

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