© 2011, Wanda L. Harrell
This story is one I wish were fiction, but sadly, this is a true story, one I have thought about writing for many years now. However, because it is so disturbing, I only allowed myself to think about it on rare occasion and avoided putting my thoughts onto paper. For my involvement in this story, it began one April morning in 1997 when a neighbor called to ask if I would help with cleaning the room of a neighborhood child. On the surface, that task seemed innocent enough. However, this was not an innocent incident; this particular child would never again step foot into that room.
Little Freddy’s family lived on a cul-de-sac several blocks from our home, so the only way I knew of him was from missing posters scattered about the neighborhood light poles. From what was in the newspaper and on the TV news, I learned the parents had became engaged in a serious marital struggle when she brought lunch home for her child and husband one day in late March. The father, a sailor stationed in Jacksonville, threatened to kill his wife and son, and then burn the house down, saying that even their troubled marriage was until death do us part.
Freddy’s mother told the media that Little Freddy begged his father not to kill him, and tried to run. On that day, the father tried to physically force his wife and son into his vehicle, but the wife escaped. However, she was unable to free her son. Screaming, she watched helplessly as her husband drove off with the crying child. The police were called, and the search began for little Freddy. In the intervening time, the mother avoided her own house and stayed with friends.
A couple of days later, seven-year-old Freddy was located, but it was too late. His father had taken him to a wooded area in Gilmer County, Georgia. After slitting his own child’s throat, he locked little Freddy in the truck, and set the vehicle and his only son afire. When the fire was noticed and police arrived, the truck was consumed in flames while the father stood safely by and watched before he was arrested. Eventually, he was brought back to Jacksonville for a military trial, eventually receiving a life sentence.
After the death and burial of her only child and the arrest of her husband, the mother finally decided she wanted to return to her home in my neighborhood. That’s when I received the call from a neighbor.
Arriving to coincide with the other neighbor women, I entered the house, the place that had once been a home to little Freddy.
Much to my dismay, I was assigned the child’s room for cleaning. As I walked in, I felt profound sadness amidst all the toys and the unmade bed. After emitting several deep sighs, I took a few moments to really look around. There was the empty milkshake cup from McDonald's setting on his bedside table, both the empty bed where he had last slept at home. It was a child's room without a child.
After I built up a bit of courage, I sat down on the floor where little Freddy had once played with his toys. There were toy soldiers, coloring books and crayons, broken and practically new, all scattered everywhere. As I gathered things together, tears streamed down my cheeks. Another of the neighbors came in to help me change the bed, but it was a bed that would never know sleeping Freddy again. Never would Freddy lay his head upon the pillow to dream little boy dreams, put a tooth under that pillow for the tooth fairy, or say his prayers on bended knee by the bedside. Never again would he ride his bike in the neighborhood, run inside to tell his mom he'd seen a frog, or jump up and down when he opened a wanted toy at Christmas, get excited when offered a dish of ice cream. Never would Freddy become a teenager, graduate from high school or college, fall in love or become a dad himself.
Although there were many toys and things in the room, it was empty, empty of the child who should have been there playing, talking, laughing, just plain living and enjoying his childhood. I lost track of time, but eventually finished the heart wrenching job before me.
As I left, my mind could not rid itself of the child, a child I had never seen and didn't know. Freddy’s life was like the broken crayons in the floor. The bright and spirited child would never again be whole on this earth. Like the crayons, his little life could not be put back together. Never again would he sip a chocolate milkshake from McDonald’s, play with his toys, or color in the coloring books. Little Freddy was in Heaven, in his Heavenly Father's care, far away from all the pain and disappointments of discovering his mortal father, the one man who was supposed to keep him safe, but snatched his life like a thief, all the while standing by witnessing the horror.
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Matthew 19:14