Snowflakes and tears fell Monday as this southern Minnesota town welcomed home a hero.

Waseca police officer Arik Matson waved from the passenger seat of a squad car to hundreds lining State Street, cheering and clapping as he returned for the first time since he was shot in the head last winter as he responded to a call about a prowler.

Among the throng were his grandparents, Ray and Joyce Langerud of Albert Lea, smiling and joyful to see their 33-year-old grandson.

“It’s wonderful. It’s a day you never expect,” Ray Langerud said, holding a homemade welcome sign. “It was wonderful to see his face,” Joyce Langerud said. “Knowing that people are caring for Arik helps us get through it, too.”

The Waseca boys’ and girls’ hockey teams were on hand, wearing jerseys with Matson’s name on the back of each one. On the front were the words “Waseca Police” along with an emblem representing Matson’s badge, No. 222.

The honor parade ended at the police station, where Matson slowly climbed from the car. Supported by his wife, Megan, he walked haltingly along the line of fellow officers waiting for him under a giant “Welcome Home, Arik!” banner.

“Thank you. Thank you,” he said as he accepted greetings and a few hugs from his colleagues.

Matson was shot on Jan. 6 as he and other officers responded to a call about a suspicious person in a neighborhood. Officers surrounded a home and spotted Tyler Janovsky on a second-story porch. He ran across the rooftop, shooting Matson as he fled.

Janovsky, 38, pleaded guilty in Waseca County District Court in July to two counts of attempted first-degree murder involving a police officer. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 6.

Matson’s journey has been a lonely one. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he hadn’t seen family members in person since February. Meanwhile, he was shuttled to four different hospitals in two states as he progressed through the stages of recovery.

Monday was the first time he’d seen his two young daughters since before the shooting.

“Arik has had to fight this battle by himself,” his grandmother said. “He has been very brave. He basically had to learn to do everything again.”

Deb Hogan drove over from nearby Waterville for the welcome. With a nephew who’s an officer with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, she’s keenly aware of the worries that the families of police officers live with. “It was terrible,” she said of Matson’s shooting. “We want him to know that we all support him.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money for a vehicle that can accommodate Matson’s family and his wheelchair. By Monday afternoon, about $21,000 of the needed $80,000 had been raised.

As the ceremony wound down, Capt. J.J. Geiger of the Minnesota State Patrol turned his face toward the cold, gray sky. “It’s a wonderful day,” he said. “This event made it warmer.”