This morning began like any other day. But we knew it wasn’t going to end like any other day, because Every 15 Minutes was in full swing at Patterson High School.
We knew that a knock on our door was going to come at some point that day, and we were going to be told that our son had been killed in an alcohol related traffic accident, just like countless families have been told before.
We were also told our son would not be coming home tonight.
Even though we knew it was coming, nothing could prepare us for the knock on the door when it came. It was sharp, it was sudden and it was jolting.
The officer at the door was to tell us that Baily Raye Sawyer was gone and he would not be returning.
Fourteen other families were also impacted by the tragic incident.
We all met in a classroom at Patterson High School to discuss our day, our feelings and to prepare for the memorial service to be held for our children the next morning at the school’s gymnasium.
Cindy Schut’s daughter, Mariele, was one of the few walking dead. Seeing her daughter lifeless and cold brought on tears throughout the entire day.
“I would not be able to ever do this again,” said Cindy Schut. “I know that, even if she’s as innocent as she can be, this could actually happen to her tomorrow. You do everything right and she’s still gone and her bed will be empty tonight.”
Jessica and Paul Saleral’s daughter Sierra had died on arrival at the local hospital. They had to go to the hospital and identify the body of their daughter.
“Even though we knew it wasn’t real, I still felt like I left a piece of me there as I left,” they said. “I’m just very grateful that Sierra will be coming home tomorrow.”
Sharon and Phil Hansen’s daughter, Dayna, also portrayed one of the walking dead who had come back from the grave, along with the Grim Reaper, to collect the dead souls.
“As soon as I found out several months ago, I knew that I would not be able to deal with this,” said Sharon Hansen, who said she had been dreading the three weeks prior to the event. “I did all of my crying already and today there were no tears left. I had a non-reaction when they knocked on my door because, for me, it wasn’t today.”
Phil Hansen said he was calm during the initial approach, but felt a pain once he joined the meeting and witnessed his daughter’s headstone.
“I felt like it was real at that point,” said Phil Hansen. “The tears started to come as I looked at her headstone and I saw her picture and the date of her death.”
From the parents’ point of view, it wasn’t just the fact that it had been a knock on their door, but the fact that it does happen to a family, friend or neighbor every day.
Fortunately for us, every single family member and friend were very thankful that they would be reunited with their sons and daughters the following morning. The program had a very strong impact and left its mark on everyone involved.
Even though the name is still used today, the statistics have, in fact, began to see a small turnaround. It is now closer to every 30 minutes that someone dies in an alcohol related accident.
I’m sure that programs like these have contributed to the turnaround.
After experiencing this faux ceremony, his mother and I are indeed grateful that we will be able to see our son tomorrow.