LITTLE VILLAGE — When Sam Allen used to think about what made him different from other kids, he'd think of his lymphoma.
Now the thing that sets Sam apart is his FBI Chicago badge. He's the only junior agent in school.
Sam, 8, of Glenview, had been diagnosed at 6 when his mom found a small lump on his back. Doctors were surprised the lymphoma hadn't spread anywhere, said his mom, Lisa Allen. But it came back a year later, and Sam spent months in the hospital getting treatment.
He was 8 when he entered remission and the Make-A-Wish Foundation asked him what he'd like to do.
Sam and his sister, 11-year-old Katie, wanted to visit Washington, D.C., and see the Spy Museum and memorials, he said.
Sam Allen, 8, of Glenview, smiles after receiving his junior agent credentials at FBI Chicago on Wednesday. [DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer]
The Make-A-Wish set that up — and did him one better. They arranged a trip to FBI Chicago headquarters in Little Village. Sam and Katie, who love books and shows about spies and like to play games where they spy on their parents, thought they'd get a tour when they showed up Wednesday.
Instead, the FBI agents and Make-A-Wish arranged for a "bad guy" to pretend to rob the bank at headquarters once the Allens arrived.
Sam and Katie were called on to help the FBI solve the crime. They donned child-sized SWAT gear and looked for evidence at the bank. That led them to the getaway car, which they searched and dusted for fingerprints.
They took a ride in a BearCat and eventually found the robber in a garage. There, Sam and Katie helped arrest the bad guy, putting him in cuffs and searching for more evidence.
"I don't know what we'll ever do in their lives that will top this," said Lisa Allen, smiling and laughing while her kids hunted for the bank robber.
Sam even helped defuse a fake bomb — bright red sticks of dynamite, ticking alarm clock and all — and got to handle an FBI robot, searching for more bombs underneath the suspect's car.
After all that, Sam and Katie took their bad guy to the FBI's atrium, where they were greeted by a cheering and clapping crowd.
It was the first time a junior special agent went through training and arrested someone in the same day, said Michael Anderson, FBI Chicago's special agent in charge.
Anderson issued Sam and Katie junior agent credentials and gave them challenge coins (Sam's a collector) and his business card — which should get them into any FBI office they need, he joked.
"It's just been really neat after feeling so helpless ... to see him feeling so strong," Lisa said. "He connects it to, 'I got to do all this because I was brave when I had cancer.'"
Sam, 8, and Katie Allen, 11, review their evidence after arresting a bad guy at FBI Chicago during a Wednesday Make-A-Wish trip. [DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer]
Sam and Katie had a team of five SWAT agents helping them, plus an evidence technician and bomb technician. The kids did an "excellent" job, Anderson said: They kept their cool and worked together as a team — which is just what he's looking for in future agents.
That's good news for at least one of them: Katie is hoping she can join the CIA or Secret Service one day. Sam wants to be the president.
The FBI visit gave the Allens a chance to replace their memories of the hospital and Sam's treatment with ones of having fun together. It's been hard for Sam to express how he feels, Lisa said, and he'd wondered why he'd gotten cancer and had to go through recovery, something other kids at school didn't have to do.
"I feel like he's going to come out of this just feeling so strong," Lisa said after the FBI visit. It's "hard to find the words to express what that means to us."