"They passed the mall!" came a chain of shouts from the start of the line, which snaked from Vincent Drive and a block around the corner to Silver Bay Road. The crowd comprised of officials, adults and small children alike passed the message along and craned their necks, and waited, listening for the blare of sirens.
Minutes later, more than 150 Toms River residents, friends and supporters of Marine Sgt. William P. Carolan began to clap, wave, cheer. The moment was about to begin.
It was time to surprise Carolan, who thought he was getting a simple ride home after serving two deployments in Afghanistan.
Instead, his family and friends made a few phone calls and managed to arrange something much larger scale.
Something that brought out the community of Silverton, the American Legion Riders, Toms River Fire District #2 and Toms River Police as well as friends and residents: a parade of motorcycles and firetrucks down Silver Bay Road to Carolan's house on Vincent Drive, where he'd see dozens of friends and strangers waving and cheering his arrival home after five years.
Flags, streamers, ribbons and handmade signs began to move, held high above heads of those who lined the sidewalks and curbs of Vincent and Silver Bay roads.
The blare of fire truck sirens, the roar of motorcycle engines, the honk of vehicle horns, the cheers of the crowd filled the street as Carolan drove by.
"I'm at a loss for words," Carolan said. "This is a total surprise."
He was deeply touched by the outpouring of support, he said. Mother Paula Carolan said the event came together after a couple phone calls. Friends in Silverton Fire Company helped coordinate as the American Legion Riders agreed to help ride Carolan home. Toms River Police assisted with traffic safety and provided an escort from the Kohl's parking lot to Vincent Drive.
Chatting into his walky-talky was longtime friend Michael Cocco, of the Silverton Fire Department, communicating with other volunteers to see when the cavalcade would begin, and helping to direct the large crowd that began to gather after 5 p.m.
"He totally didn't expect this," Cocco said. "He expected myself, his other best friend and one of our close friends to be at the airport. He had no idea of everything that was going on here. We saw him at the Kohls parking lot and he thought he was just getting a fire truck ride."
Paula Carolan was grateful for the support of the community. "Silverton is a family," she said.
William Carolan descended the back of the fire truck and entered his mother's arms.
"He doesn't like to think of himself as a hero. But he's my hero," Paula Carolan said.