Category Archives: Family
Please, please, please let this be a trend forming!
In early May, three young women in Cleveland, Ohio—Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight—were rescued after being held captive for a decade or more by Ariel Castro, a former public school bus driver.
And now it looks as if another young woman—missing for more than 18 years—has been found: Ashlyn Wilson of Oregon.
Ashlyn was abducted by her mother Tara in 1995, right after her father Dan won a custody battle with his estranged wife. Before he could even meet his new daughter, Tara kidnapped the child and kept her hidden for nearly two decades. Ashlyn has been on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children registry since her disappearance and despite working closely with law enforcement officials during her absence, Dan never knew what happened to his little girl.
At least not until this week, when Tara and Ashlyn walked into the Polk County Sheriff Department’s office in Dallas, Texas and turned themselves in.
“Both Tara and Ashlyn just showed up,” Sergeant Mark Garton told reporters recently. “Probably coinciding with Ashlyn now being 18.”
“It gets me pretty emotional when I think of speaking with her and opening the door and giving her a hug,” the overwhelmed yet ecstatic father said as he clutched the only photo he had of his daughter, taken when she was just eight months old. “I’ve been familiar with the anguish roller coaster for the past 18 years, but that set a new high and a new low.”
The low being that deputies never took a picture of his now 18-year-old daughter. It matters little now since if things go according to plan, Dan will get to meet Ashlyn in the flesh very soon.
As heart-warming as this story is—and as exciting as the release of Amanda Berry and the other women in Ohio was earlier this month—my hope is that captors everywhere are starting to realize the error of their ways and to release the children they abducted years and even decades earlier.
In other words, let’s all hope that stories like these will continue to come at a more rapid pace than they have recently… if that’s even possible!
The life of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson of Valdosta, Georgia came to a tragic and mysterious end on January 11th.
According to official reports—which Kendrick’s family and a large number of supporters believe to be inaccurate or false—the three-sport athlete was in the gymnasium, reached for a shoe and accidentally fell into a rolled-up exercise mat that was standing upright nearby.
By the time Kendrick was found, it was too late. He had died of suffocation and, with all the blood rushing to his head, his face was nearly unrecognizable.
Here is a picture that leaked to family members just after the young man’s death and has since gone viral on the Internet. I warn you, though. It’s kind of gross.
Actually, it’s this very picture—as well as some nagging questions—that have people so up in arms over Kendrick’s death and the perceived mishandling of his case by investigators. Despite there being no bruises or other clear signs of foul play on the body, family members still feel their loved one was murdered. And they point to Kendrick’s bloated, damaged face as evidence of this being at least possible.
“It’s indescribable,” father Kenneth Johnson said of his dead son. “You don’t expect to see your child lying down like that. As handsome as my son was, the day you see him like that is crazy.”
When asked about the official cause of death—accidental suffocation—Kenneth said only this: “People are not buying it.”
Those same people have been rallying in the streets of Valdosta since April in protest of Kendrick’s death and the investigation—or lack thereof—by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office. And to be perfectly honest, they have good reasons for being upset.
Aside from the suspicious nature of Kendrick’s death, a host of other issues, mistakes and unusual behaviors have only added to the mystery. For instance, both the family and the coroner believe Kendrick’s body was moved during the investigation, which anyone who watches CSI can tell you is a forensic “no-no.” Many also believe that Sheriff Chris Prine was too quick to rule out foul play, doing so less than a day after the student’s body was found.
Unfortunately, that’s not all.
Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson also found it disturbing that he was contacted six hours after Kendrick’s body was discovered; Georgia law requires that the coroner be notified immediately. And protesters continue to claim that the investigation only began once the public became outraged. Prior to that—and perhaps because Kendrick was black—the authorities appeared to do very little in trying to solve his case, even mishandling evidence on numerous occasions.
Whether or not the truth finally comes out—or already has (if this was indeed an accident)—remains to be seen. However, the puzzling case of Kendrick Johnson reminded many “old timers” of another racially motivated killing: the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi.
Till was a stocky young man who some claimed looked like an adult, but who also behaved as any relatively happy teenager would. The only problem for Emmett was his occasional inability to recognize his own limitations, which could be dangerous for blacks in the South at that time.
Sadly, it proved deadly for Emmett.
One August afternoon in Money, Mississippi, Till and his cousin, Curtis Jones, skipped church and went to Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market to buy some candy. Although white-owned, the store catered primarily to sharecroppers and their families. And on this particular day, 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant—the wife of owner Roy—was working the counter.
Till and his cousin met up with some local boys and during their conversation, Till produced a picture of his integrated school class in Chicago. One by one he pointed to his classmates—even the white ones—and claimed they were all his friends.
Even the white girls.
At this point—and likely in disbelief—the boys demanded proof and dared Till to go and speak with Carolyn Bryant. He reluctantly agreed and entered the store.
I should probably mention that Till contracted polio as a child and developed a persistent stutter, one he would later alleviate—at least temporarily—by whistling. Now back to the story.
Accounts of what happened in the store vary, but most claim that Till whistled at Bryant. It could have been that he was asking for bubble gum—the whistling being used to overcome his issues with the letter “b”—but no one knows for sure. Some even say he grabbed Bryant’s hand, asked for a date and said “bye baby” on his way out. Or maybe even grabbed the white woman around the waist.
What happened here, in actuality, is irrelevant. It is what happened next that makes this such a tragic and poignant tale.
When Roy Bryant heard about Till’s altercation with his wife, he flipped and immediately started searching for him. He questioned some of the boys who were seen with Till at the store and even snatched a young black boy from the street. Bryant released him once he learned the “n–ger who did the talking” was from Chicago.
Bryant also knew where to find him. Till was staying at the home of a local man, Mose Wright, with some relatives. Early the next morning, Bryant, his half-brother J.W. Milam and an unidentified black man paid Wright a visit.
Armed with pistols and flashlights, the men sneaked into Wright’s house, questioned him about the boy and eventually found till in bed with one of his cousins. They asked the boy if his name was Till and, for some reason, he said yes. The men forced Till to dress quietly—at gunpoint, I assume—and told Wright they would kill him if he reported any of this. Then they rushed out, tossed Till in the back of their pickup truck and sped away.
Bryant drove to a barn in the nearby town of Drew, dragged Till out of the truck and pistol-whipped him mercilessly. Then it was back in the truck, this time with a tarp thrown over him.
What happened next is also kind of hazy. Rumor has it that Bryant drove Till all over town and to several different locations. At each, he and his boys would extract Till from the truck, beat him up again and then move on to the next stop. One such stop was Milam’s shed and, according to some, that is where Till was finally shot and killed. However, it could have also occurred near the Tallahatchie River.
The most horrifying accounts have Bryant returning to his store—the back of his truck pooling with blood—and either claiming that he killed a deer or actually showing Till’s body to people and saying something like “that’s what happens to smart n–ggers.”
Ignorant bastard. Sadly, it gets even worse.
Eventually, Bryant and Milam decided the time had come to dispose of the body. They took Till and a 70-pound fan they got from a cotton gin to the Tallahatchie River, stripped him naked—except for a silver ring—used barbed wire to attach the fan to his neck and tossed him into the water.
Although Mose Wright refused to tell police about what happened—still afraid Bryant would kill him if he did—he did tell Curtis Jones, Till’s cousin. Jones notified the authorities, who questioned Bryant and Milam and arrested them both for kidnapping.
They both claimed Till was alive the last time they saw him, though.
Three days later, the bloated and disfigured body of Emmett Till was discovered by some boys fishing in the Tallahatchie. What a gruesome discovery that must have been! At any rate, it was obvious from Till’s beaten, broken and, in the case of much of his head, missing body that he had been murdered.
The barbed wire and fan blade were a dead giveaway, too.
Bryant and Milam were eventually acquitted of all kidnapping charges and had the nerve to share “the true story” with Look magazine a year later (protected against double jeopardy, of course). Milam confessed to shooting Till, but didn’t find anything wrong with it. Fortunately, the public did and both men went bankrupt once blacks stopped visiting their businesses.
In both of these cases—Emmett Till in 1955 and Kendrick Johnson in 2013—the obvious connections are race and discrimination, but a simpler connection exists: the gruesome state of each victim’s head and face area following their murder or allegedly accidental death.
Here is Emmett Till—again, this is pretty gross.
For the Johnson family’s sake, I certainly hope they get some resolution soon and can come to terms with their terrible loss. It will never be easy—and their questions may still go unanswered—but hope is what’s most important. And faith, I suppose.
As for poor Emmett Till, I really don’t know what to say. He got a hugely raw deal and the only semi-positive thing to draw from his story is the eventual financial ruin of his killers. That and the fact they both died of cancer later.
1955 was a different time, to be sure. And as much as I would like to believe something like this could never happen in modern America—where race separates us less than it did back then—the sad truth is that it does and likely will for a long time to come.
Remember this, though: the change begins with YOU. So I guess there’s hope after all, huh?
Falling victim to someone as sick and depraved as Ariel Castro—the man charged with the kidnapping and rape of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight in Cleveland—is obviously a terrible thing.
Just look at what he did to these young women over the course of a decade of captivity in his Seymour Avenue home: abducting them as children in broad daylight; keeping them chained up; raping and impregnating them; forcing one to miscarry as many as five babies; forcing another to actually have his child… the list goes on and on.
Of course, being the child of a monster like Castro is no easy task, either. Especially once you discover that the man you loved—and the man you thought loved you—was in fact torturing young women and keeping horrible secrets from those closest to him.
I cannot imagine what these kids—now adults—must be feeling right now. But in the case of Castro’s daughter, Angie Gregg, I don’t have to try to imagine it; she basically laid everything out in an interview with CNN recently.
Before she knew about the horrible things her father did, Gregg described her dad as a “friendly, caring and doting man.” Her childhood with him seemed ordinary enough, for the most part. Castro would take her for rides on his motorcycle and sometimes lined children up in his backyard for haircuts—which seems much more ominous given Castro’s crimes.
Unfortunately, though, life with her father wasn’t always happy. Castro accused Gregg’s mother, Grimilda Figueroa, of cheating on him and often beat her “like she was a man.” Gregg witnessed many of these attacks, as did her sisters. Eventually, Figueroa had enough and left Castro.
Gregg was the only daughter who stayed behind because she believed the excuses her father gave for his violent behavior. And she remained with him until she was grown and moved away.
Now married and aware of who her father really was, Gregg remains shocked, appalled and, most of all, disgusted. To her, Castro is “the most evil, vile, demonic criminal” ever. And given what he did to these young women—two of which Gregg knew in her school days (DeJesus and Berry)—she now says that Castro is “dead to [her].” And who could blame her?
What’s most frightening about Gregg’s new-found knowledge of her father is how every little detail from her past suddenly started to fall into place. Things she once found slightly strange—but not all that suspicious—now seem so much darker and disturbing. Here are a few specific examples that she referenced in her interview:
- Any time Gregg visited her father, his house was locked up tight, he would appear in a window, motion for her to wait and then take an abnormally long time to reappear. When he finally did, he would always ask her to come around to the back door. Never was she—or anyone else—permitted to enter through the front.
- Gregg and her husband visited Castro and occasionally ate dinner with him, but he always had music playing very loud. And when she asked to go upstairs to see her childhood bedroom, he always made excuses, like there was too much junk in the room. Little did she know that “junk” was actually a young woman being held captive.
- At one point, Gregg and her husband were living in Indiana and invited Castro to visit, but he always declined because he never wanted to leave home for more than a day at a time. Now we know why.
- A few months ago, Castro showed Gregg a picture of a 6-year-old girl on his cell phone and claimed it was his girlfriend’s daughter—this was the same story he told a neighbor who saw him at the park with a young girl last Sunday, the day before his captives were freed and he was arrested by police.
How horrifying must it be to realize that every time you thought things were normal with your father, the truth is that he was doing evil and despicable things to women roughly your same age? Women you once knew as children?
Gregg is understandably beside herself and now wants nothing more to do with her father… ever.
“There will be no visits; there will be no phone calls. He can never be daddy again,” she told reporters. “I have no sympathy for the man. To go to the vigils, to show these girls the footage of their parents’ pleas for their return, to rape, starve and beat innocent human beings… I am disgusted.”
Castro’s son Anthony has also been affected by his father’s terrible crimes and was initially suspected of being the rapist/kidnapper since they share the same first name, Ariel. He was, of course, cleared once police arrested his dad.
Oddly enough, Anthony noticed some peculiarities similar to those shared by Gregg with regard to their father. The most notable is that whenever Anthony visited Castro, he was rarely—if ever—allowed inside the house. His last visit actually occurred a short time ago, not long before Castro’s crimes finally came to light.
“I last saw my dad two weeks ago at the house, but he didn’t let me in. He never did,” Anthony told MailOnline, a British news site. “The last time was several years ago and even then it was for about 20 minutes.”
What’s even more bizarre is that Anthony—a self-proclaimed “journalist turned banker” who graduated from Bowling Green University with a degree in print journalism—once interviewed Nancy Ruiz for a 2004 newspaper article. Ruiz is the mother of Gina DeJesus, who had been missing for just a few months at the time of the interview.
Now Anthony knows the truth: it was his own family responsible for the young girl’s disappearance. And this isn’t easy for him to accept, as I’m sure we can all imagine.
“If I had known anything about this, there is no way I could have not done something about it,” he said. “I wrote about it ten years ago and now it is so close to my family. It’s unbelievable.”
Unbelievable is right. And it just goes to show that no matter how well you think you know someone—even your own flesh and blood—the truth is that no one can truly know the evil that lies within. It just sucks that something horrible like this had to happen before Gregg and Anthony Castro discovered the truth about their father. My heart goes out to them, to be sure.
In 1908 America, Anna Jarvis petitioned her mother’s church to have a holiday set up in her honor. The request was granted and that May, the first Mother’s Day celebration took place. Jarvis eventually campaigned to have Mother’s Day recognized first in West Virginia—which happened in 1912—and then nationally. President Woodrow Wilson signed off on it two years later.
And so Mother’s Day as we know it here in the U.S. was born.
Observed each year on the second Sunday in May, Mother’s Day is supposed to be a celebration of mothers, grandmothers, godmothers and any other maternal figures; instead it has become a juggernaut of commercialism and big business.
Oddly enough, Anna Jarvis thought so, too. She even took measures to try to end the holiday she was so pivotal in creating. In 1923, Jarvis sued to stop a Mother’s Day event, unsuccessfully I might add. A decade later, she was arrested for disturbing the peace—she protested the selling of flowers by the American War Mothers group—and petitioned to have the words “Mother’s Day” removed from a postage stamp that bore her dead mother’s image, as well as a vase full of white carnations (her “flower of choice” for honoring deceased relatives—red carnations are for mothers who are still alive).
The fact that Mother’s Day remains in America means Jarvis obviously failed to have the holiday banned. She died poor, blind and childless in 1948. Ironically enough, the woman responsible for Mother’s Day never became a mother herself!
And what’s more, Jarvis wasted much of her fortune on lawsuits against florists during her life, only to have her end-of-life medical care anonymously funded by The Florist‘s Exchange. Irony times two!
These days, Mother’s Day is no less commercial and people spend obscene amounts of money on flowers, candy, greeting cards and gifts. Of course, it is the idea behind all these material rewards that makes this holiday so special.
We do these things because mothers are the greatest. They bring us into the world, nurture and care for us, teach us how to be better people and love and support us until the day they die. They deserve to be celebrated daily—and should be by their children, husbands and wives (in the case of our gay friends)—but recognizing them officially each year is important, too.
Of course, we must also accept that all mothers aren’t good mothers.
For every son who loves his mom and surprises her with fresh spring flowers or a spa getaway, there is another who curses his mother and wishes he had never been born to her. Some mothers kiss and hug; others beat, berate and abuse. It’s a fact of life.
Celebrating—or maybe condemning—a bad mummy then seems equally important. In the same way that good mothers deserve to be recognized for their efforts, bad mothers deserve to be criticized for their transgressions.
And just so we’re clear, the moniker of “bad mother” only belongs to actual bad mothers. Someone who grounds her son for behaving badly or refuses to let her 10-year-old daughter wear makeup would not qualify. A crackhead mom, on the other hand, would undoubtedly fit the bill.
What I am suggesting, of course, is a new holiday: Bad Mothers Day. Call it a celebration of women who are only mothers by virtue of having spawned human children, if you will. Or better yet, anti-Mother’s Day.
All the details can be worked out later—like when to schedule this historic holiday. I suggest finding a time that is convenient for everyone but bad mothers, a month that has so much holiday attention that it will take even more focus off these irresponsible people (like December, for instance) or just the butt end of any random month.
None of that matters until we get Bad Mothers Day approved, though.
As evidence of why such a holiday should be observed immediately—and nationally—I offer up Brenda Heist, a mother who made headlines last week for being just about as bad as they come.
In February 2002, Heist was living in Pennsylvania with her son and daughter. And sadly, things just weren’t going very well for her. She was in the midst of a divorce from her husband, Lee, and also had her request for housing assistance denied—money she was counting on so she could get her own apartment.
She got the news just after dropping her kids off at school one day. Emotionally distraught, Heist took a seat in a nearby park and proceeded to cry her eyes out. That’s when she was approached by three homeless wanderers—two men and a woman. They asked her what was wrong, comforted her and told her they were hitchhiking to Florida. Did she want to come?
In most situations like these—which obviously can’t be that common—you might expect a mother to thank these kind people, bid them good day and press on for the sake of her children.
Such was not the case with Brenda Heist.
Instead of rejecting their offer, Heist accepted it wholeheartedly and spent the next 11 years eating discarded food, living under bridges, working odd jobs for cash, shacking up with homeless men and doing everything but serving as a mother to her children.
She abandoned them without so much as a moment’s forethought, leaving everyone to wonder if she had been the victim of some violent crime or freak accident. Time passed and by 2010, Lee had officially declared her dead and eventually remarried.
But there were still plenty of questions and no clear answers. At least not until last week.
Out of the freaking blue, the now 54-year-old Brenda Heist turned up in Key Largo, Florida and gave herself up to authorities. She told police she left her family behind because of stress, so police immediately contacted them to share the “good” news of her return.
I wish I could say that her family welcomed her back with open arms, embraced her as if 11 years had not passed and vowed to make their remaining years together count. Sadly, though, that was not the case.
Lee Heist doesn’t seem interested in reconnecting with his ex-wife, and who can blame him? After she disappeared, police treated him as a suspect and his reputation in the community suffered.
“The hardest thing I had to deal with was, the families of some of my children’s friends would not let them play with them, because of what they thought of me,” he recounted. “That just tore me apart.”
And daughter Morgan seems even less interested in seeing the mother who abandoned her at eight years old.
“I don’t think she deserves to see me,” the now 20-year-old Morgan said. “I don’t really have any plans on going to see her.”
Personally, I know she’s serious because on her Twitter feed, Morgan said that she hopes her mother “rots in hell.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but this isn’t a phrase normally associated with good mothers, is it?
I think not.
So in honor of the idea of Bad Mothers Day, let Brenda Heist of Florida stand as a shining example of why we need to start observing it NOW. Put simply, there are just too many bad mothers out there who both deserve and need to be exposed.
And this is our chance to do it.
Jack was diagnosed with the disease several years ago and has already lived through two surgeries and endless rounds of chemotherapy, which continue to this day. Jack’s tumor shrank quite a bit during this time and his parents hope to see an end to the chemo this summer, but there are no guarantees.
In other words, Jack has been through a lot. And the Huskers sympathize, especially Coach Bo Pelini. In 2011, when Jack was first diagnosed with brain cancer, Pelini arranged for him to meet his favorite Nebraska player, I-back Rex Burkhead. And this year, he completely outdid himself.
Last Friday night, Jack’s father Andy got a call from the Nebraska coaches and heard what Pelini had planned. He made certain that Jack was on the field the next day—in uniform along with the rest of the team—but nothing could prepare his brave young son for what was to come.
During the first half, Jack stood on the sideline and watched the game with his favorite team, including his hero Burkhead. Halftime came and went and, by all measures, it was a decent game. The third quarter ended. The fourth quarter started and the clock started winding down. Then, with only eight minutes or so remaining, it happened.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez called Jack onto the field. After a brief huddle with Coach Pelini and a graduate assistant to review the play, the time had come.
Jack took his place behind Martinez, becoming the youngest (and smallest) running back in Huskers football history… as far as I know. And what happened next is nothing short of miraculous, not to mention touching in ways that even bring tears to my eyes… and I’m completely devoid of all emotion!
I’m kidding, of course.
It was 2nd and 10 from the Red team‘s 31-yard-line when the ball was snapped and handed to Jack, who initially ran the wrong way. Martinez set him straight and seconds later Jack was off, trucking down the field with both the offense and defense cheering him along… as well as the more than 60,000 fans in attendance and everyone on the bench.
Sixty-nine yards later, Jack crossed the goal line and scored his first—and likely not his last—touchdown. He even went down in Huskers history as the leading rusher for the day!
At that point, the place went nuts!
Players converged on Jack in a wave of red and white, lifting him onto their shoulders and chanting his name over and over again. Fans screamed and cheered the young player as he lived his dream. His wish had come true, and then some!
It’s enough to make a grown man cry… or so I’ve heard. Really. It wasn’t me.
See for yourself if you don’t believe me, because it’s right here.
And if you’re interested in learning more about Jack, his struggle with pediatric brain cancer or the disease itself, take a little trip to the Team Jack Legacy Fund or the Team Jack Facebook page. They’re worth a visit.
You’re the man, Jack!
This past Tuesday, authorities in Union, New Jersey made a gruesome and disturbing discovery, but one with a rather sweet, sad twist.
They were called to the Mill Run at Union Apartments after tenants complained of a funky smell coming from one of the units. Police found the apartment and noticed that the door was open, but the chain lock was connected. After forcing the door open, they entered the unit and found that it wasn’t vacant.
There was a malnourished 4-year-old boy locked inside. And he had been there for almost a week.
Although there was plenty of food in the apartment, the poor little guy couldn’t reach it and was unable to open the refrigerator door. He was basically starving to death, but somehow managed to stay alert. Not only that, but he also found time to care for someone else.
Police found her in the bedroom. She was the boy’s mother and one thing was for certain: she had been dead for some time and was “in a state of decomposition,” according to the official statement.
And here’s what really tears me up about this story, even more than the horror of a child trapped in an apartment with a corpse.
“He was putting some type of lotion on her, but she was deceased,” Police Director Dan Zieser said later. “It’s very sad.”
And very sweet.
Although this story brought to mind Silence of the Lambs when I first heard it—”It puts the lotion on its skin”—I was also touched by how precious and caring this child was towards his mother.
Being so young, the boy obviously didn’t know she was dead and was doing what he thought would help… and while he was starving, no less. It really tugs at the heart-strings, don’t you think?
The good news is that this sweet young man was taken to a local hospital for treatment and should be fine, at least in terms of his physical condition. There could be some as-yet-unseen psychological effects in the years to come, but I’m optimistic. He’s so young that it’s likely he will forget about this in time.
As they say, time heals all wounds. And let’s hope that’s the case for this amazing child.
I learned the importance of respecting my elders at a very young age. And despite their occasional refusal to indulge my every whim or to shower me with gifts, there were no adults I respected more—or loved more—than my parents. I can only hope that most kids feel the same way.
Actually, I know of at least one other who definitely does. Her name is Celia and she is a 9-year-old girl from Los Angeles County in California. And on Sunday night, the love and respect she has for her father came shining through.
The pair was returning from a friend’s house and driving down the darkened Sierra Highway near Acton around 1 a.m. For whatever reason—perhaps due to alcohol—Celia’s father never saw the sharp curve ahead of them. Their Ford Escape careened off the road, rolled several times down a 200-foot embankment and came to rest upside down in the ravine below.
While her father lay unconscious, his young daughter got herself loose and crawled out of the wreck. She smelled gasoline and—amazingly, I might add—knew to turn off the engine before going for help. And her task wasn’t an easy one, either. The desert at night can get pitch black and given the terrain, you just never know where that next step will take you.
“She walked quite a distance in a very, very threatening environment,” he later said of the brave young lady. “It’s very black out there, very dark. It’s very steep and it’s brushy and there’s also coyotes in the background.”
Yikes! I forgot about coyotes!
Eventually, Celia saw a light in the distance and started for it. She discovered a home but when she knocked, no one answered. So she made her way back to the crash, checked on her father and resorted to Plan B: climbing up the embankment to the road above her.
A treacherous trip later, Celia made it and headed for the only other light she could see, which was coming from a rail station more than a mile away. Once there, she was able to flag someone down who immediately contacted the authorities. By the time they reached the scene of the accident, though, it was too late.
The girl’s father, Alejandro Renteria, was dead. He was 35 years old.
The good news is that this incredible child suffered only minor cuts and bruises and should be fine—physically, at least. She will still have to come to terms with the loss of her father—thankfully, she is already surrounded by family and friends—but at least she can take comfort in knowing that because of her efforts, he at least had a chance of survival.
And even though he isn’t here any more, there can be little doubt that he would be extremely proud of his daughter. Who wouldn’t be?
Expensive tickets. Baggage fees. Long lines. Delays. Body cavity searches. Terrorist watch lists. Equipment malfunctions.
All of these things are synonymous with air travel in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. And since that fateful day, I suspect most of us who are forced to travel by plane dread the experience of racing to the airport and dealing with all the stresses involved.
On Saturday, Ryan Bresette and his family were returning from a beach vacation and connecting through Alabama’s Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. With him were his wife Heather and his three sons: Tyler, Sam and Luke. Bresette’s daughter Anna didn’t make the trip.
As the family walked towards the gate of their final flight home, they passed under a huge digital sign, the kind that shows arrivals and departures. This was in a new part of the airport that had recently been modernized and remodeled.
Unfortunately, it seems that someone left this sign unfinished because just as Bresette and his brood passed under it, the sign came crashing down. Larry Snyder was riding up the escalator at the time and saw it happen.
“The family was crushed, little kids crushed underneath the sign,” he told local reporters later. “And everybody was scattering to lift it up.” Snyder included.
By the time rescue workers and other technicians arrived on the scene, young Luke Bresette—a fifth grader at a Catholic school in Kansas City—was dead. His mother Heather broke both of her ankles and her pelvis. She remains in critical condition at a Birmingham hospital. Luke’s brother Tyler suffered a concussion, while his brother Sam broke his nose and his leg. At last check, they were both in fair condition, but doctors are optimistic.
None of this changes the fact that Luke is gone, of course. And though many have said this was simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I tend to disagree. To me, this was a case of someone doing a half-ass job and killing an innocent child in the process. Sure, it was indirect and presumably unintentional, but it still happened. And it certainly didn’t need to.
I truly feel for Ryan and the Bresette family. Losing a child has to be the worst experience a parent can have. And since my own son is also named Luke, I can’t help but think how I would feel if this had happened to me. Not to make light of this terrible tragedy, but it would be like one of those Earth-killing asteroids impacting our planet and ending all life as we know it. Only the asteroid would be overwhelming grief and the life it would snuff out would be my own. I just don’t think I could handle it.
Please pray for the Bresette’s during this difficult time. And pray that Luke is in a better place than the crumbling, darkening world he was just forced to leave. It certainly couldn’t get much worse.
In the past, I never much cared for the term “senseless violence” because honestly, isn’t all violence senseless?
Then I read about Sherry West of Brunswick, Georgia, a recent victim of violence that claimed the life of her 13-month-old son, Antonio. And if ever there was an example of senseless violence, this would have to be it.
Thursday morning, West put her young son in his stroller and went out for a walk. Ever since a car accident left her disabled, she has tried to get regular exercise to strengthen her heart, and this seemed like the perfect time. It was early enough that most of her neighbors would be going to work soon, so the streets would be pretty clear.
West ran a few errands and ended with a quick stop at the post office before starting for home. As she made her way down the road, she noticed two young boys approaching her. The oldest boy—17-year-old De’Marquise Elkins—asked West for money while his 14-year-old friend—the as-yet-unidentified and smaller of the two—simply stood behind him.
And Elkins had a gun.
“I told him I didn’t have any money,” West said later. “And he said, ‘Give me your money or I’m going to kill you and I’m going to shoot your baby,’ and I said, ‘I don’t have any money… and don’t kill my baby.’”
Elkins started to grab West’s purse and then suddenly shot her in the head, sending her to the ground. Fortunately, the bullet just grazed her, but his second shot hit her squarely in the leg.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Elkins walked over to Antonio’s stroller, raised his weapon and shot the defenseless toddler in the face before fleeing. West performed CPR to try and save her young son, but it was too late. Antonio was dead.
Now West has lost two sons to senseless violence. Her first was stabbed to death in New Jersey in 2008. He was 18 years old.
“This is the second child that people have taken from me in a tragic way,” West said later. “I’m so afraid to have any more babies now. I tried to raise really good kids in a wicked world.”
Wicked is only the tip of the iceberg, I’m sorry to say.
Elkins and his young accomplice are now in custody and have both been charged with first-degree murder. And as happy as I am to report that Elkins will be treated as an adult in the impending criminal proceedings—Georgia does have the death penalty, so there could be a lethal injection in his future—the sad fact remains that even justice can’t replace the young life that was taken from Antonio, his mother and everyone touched by this tragic tale.
Rest in peace, young prince.
“Everything was gone,” he later told reporters. “My brother’s bed, my brother’s dresser, my brother’s TV. My brother was gone.”
Jeremy jumped in the hole and attempted to rescue his brother Jeff, but he was overwhelmed as the floor continued to collapse and had to be pulled out by deputies. He and four others escaped unharmed, but poor Jeff never made it out.
He was presumed dead and although rescue workers tried to recover his body, it was simply too treacherous as the sinkhole continued to expand. On Sunday, a demolition crew destroyed the house after surviving family members salvaged what little they could.
Unfortunately, it looks as if the sinkhole will become the final resting place of Jeff Bush. He is yet another casualty of “sinkhole alley” along Florida’s west coast.
I hope his family had sinkhole insurance. Is that even a real thing?