August 21, my four-year-old nephew Cooper was accidentally killed. He had gone with his mom to walk one of his brothers to the bus stop, as he did every school day. Just after the bus full of kids pulled away, Cooper started to cross the street on his bike. A 15-year-old neighbor boy (who has not been named because he’s a minor), driving his family’s minivan, had stopped at the corner. His windshield was dirty. The sun had just come up over the mountain, and was shining across the lake directly into his eyes. The boy ran over Cooper without even seeing him.
You can see the photo of the helicopter that landed in the street, and a stretcher carrying him, and the minivan with its dirty windshield in the photo gallery here:
My brother called to tell us that Cooper had been run over, and that he was in the helicopter on the way to Primary Children’s hospital in Salt Lake City. I was downstairs, in my basement, doing my yoga practice, when my dad opened up the door and called to me. From the sound of his voice, I thought my mother had died. He sounded like a feral animal. I ran upstairs, grateful to see my mom was fine. We sat for a few minutes, crying, going over what my brother had said. On the way to the hospital, my mom kept saying she knew everything was going to be okay. I didn’t feel the same. We got through to my brother once while we were driving. All he said was that Cooper was in surgery, and that he would talk to us when we got there. All I could think was that he wouldn’t want to tell us that kind of news on the phone.
As we walked into the hospital’s atrium, I could see my brother walking brisky toward us. He went straight to my dad, embraced him, and said, “Cooper’s gone.” My dad started wailing. My 78 year old father, a quiet, reserved man, screaming, “No!” Over and over. Finally my brother said, “Dad, I don’t think they like people to do that here.” Obviously-sick children in wheelchairs were visiting with their families in the sunny atrium, while we fell apart. They took us to a grieving room. We waited there for Cooper’s two oldest brothers to come back (someone had taken them out to get something to eat, and I think they were riding the light rail), worried that they might find out from someone other than their parents that Cooper was dead. His six year old brother was the last to arrive. One of the family’s friends picked him up from school. He was hungry, so they stopped for something to eat on the way. When his parents told him what had happened, he threw up.
They brought Cooper into the grieving room, and everyone who wanted to got a chance to hold him and say goodbye.
What should happen to the 15-year-old boy, driving without a license, without insurance, who accidentally killed Cooper? My brother and sister-in-law met with the boy and his family a few days later. They told him they loved him, and that he was part of their family now. They told him they didn’t want his life to be destroyed by the accident. They hugged him and forgave him.
Today, my brother got up in juvenile court and said he supported the resolution the district attorney and the boy’s lawyer had proposed. No jail. I can’t get into the details, but I wanted to note that the attorneys and the judge all cried. They commended my brother and sister-in-law for their love and compassion, something they didn’t see much of in juvenile court. My brother stood and said he didn’t want the boy to be separated from his family, from his mother and father and sisters. What good would come of placing a boy who is a good student, loved by his family and friends, into the criminal justice system? It wouldn’t bring Cooper back. He wants to minimize the pain and suffering.
As we left, I asked my brother what would have happened if he wanted “justice.” He said he thought the boy would probably have served time. Now, he’s free.
In January, when I was back for a short visit, my mom and I stayed with the boys while their parents took a rare vacation. Every morning, Cooper and I walked his brother to the bus stop through the snow. Even in the winter, waiting at the bus stop was a neighborhood social event. I imagine there were at least a dozen people there the day Cooper died. It’s hard to imagine how it could have happened.
When I met the boy today, I didn’t feel charitable. But then I saw a boy surrounded by family, who are grieving as we are. And my brother, who could have asked for “justice,” but instead offered love and compassion.
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