A Refugee Who Grew Up to Join the Coast Guard Just Proposed to His Dream Girl at The White House

A surprise proposal at The White House is enough to have us swooning, and that was before we found out that the groom-t0-be is a member of the U.S. Coast Guard who was rescued by the Coast Guard as a child. Orlando Morel and Shameeka Edwards’ love story—along with the stunning photographs of their engagement at The White House by Judah Avenue Photography—are sure to make you melt as well.


A refugee from Haiti, Orlando first landed in the United States as a six-year-old when the U.S. Coast Guard pulled him from the waters off the coast of Florida. When his mother died three months after their arrival, Orlando was adopted by a retired Navy petty officer, Louise Jackson, a Haitian immigrant herself who at the time was helping to translate for Haitian refugees. When Orlando was in high school, Louise reminded him that U.S. Coast Guard had saved his life, and Orlando listened. Orlando graduated from the Coast Guard Academy when he was 24 years old, 18 years after being rescued, and took part in search-and-rescue missions that patrolled the waters around Haiti.

Now 28, Orlando is a naval engineer with the U.S. Coast Guard. In September, he met the love of his life, Shameeka, who was working as a civilian employee for the U.S. Coast Guard in his building. She was headed into her office carrying a pie, which caught Orlando’s attention. They struck up a conversation, but Shameeka refused to offer Orlando a slice as the pie was intended for an event at her office. A few days later, Shameeka happened to wander by Orlando’s desk, and again, they started chatting. When Shameeka walked away for the second time, Orlando felt he’d missed his opportunity to ask her out. So when she chatted him over the office messaging system, he was quick to ask if she’d give him a ride to his car. She consented, and by the time they’d reached his vehicle, he’d mustered up the courage to ask her on a date.


A first date over sushi followed shortly after, and by October 18, they’d made it official. It didn’t take Orlando long to realize that he’d met his soul mate. When Shameeka’s plans to tour The White House with a friend in February fell through, Orlando, who also serves as a White House social aide, felt responsible. It was then he determined that he’d make it up to her by proposing to her at The White House.

To get Shameeka into The White House without arousing her suspicion, Orlando told her he was taking her on a tour for his birthday. Shameeka invited her father along and decided that a visit to The White House would be an opportune time to snap some family photos, so she hired Judah Avenue Photography to join them. Every time Shameeka would get in touch with the photographer, however, Orlando would follow up with his own phone call to give them the “real” plan. Finally, on April 9, the day of The White House tour arrived. They paused in the Blue Room to snap some photos, and it was there that Orlando got down on one knee and asked her to be his wife. Completely shocked, Shameeka said yes.


Orlando and Shameeka are still early in the wedding planning process, but they are looking at marrying either in DC or Louisiana.

Related: This Dog-Friendly Happy Hour Was So Believable, She Didn’t Realize It Was a Proposal

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Associate Editor

Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.