“But it’s my fault he is dead… No one else but mine… I was the parent on duty and I failed my son.”
Gut wrenching words spoken by a mother who is still grieving, heartbroken over the loss of her 3 year old son who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
It’s been nearly four years since that tragic day and for the first time Melissa Easter and her husband Mark are speaking publicly about their painful ordeal.
And they hope that by sharing their devastating story you’ll understand why it can happen to anyone.
“There’s not a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think about, not an hour that doesn’t go by that I don’t think about him.”
The pain is so real for Mark and Melissa Easter.
They live their lives hour by hour waiting for the heartache to end, knowing it never will.
Their youngest child, Michael, was just three years old when the unthinkable happened.
And it’s a day that changed their lives forever.
Melissa remembers “I noticed Michael wasn’t in here and as I was walking around the corner. And I heard the gun shot. I honestly first thought it hit me I don’t know why I did and that hurt my chest just hurt. I think it was my heart dropping of, oh my God, and I immediately ran into the room. I saw him on the floor, actually I saw him fall and I tried to do everything I could and I remember thinking. You know my in head at the same time– I’ve got to be a mom and I slammed the door shut and the girls are trying to get and I’m like no – call your Dad – get my cell phone.”
“I was two minutes down the road,” Mark adds. “And I turned around and came back to find that. You know and I said our daughter was coming off the porch afraid I was going kill myself because you know her brother just died.”
Mark’s loaded gun sat on top of a tall bedroom dresser.
How Michael got it is unclear but the gun went off, ending the curious three year old’s life.
Completely shattering this family’s world.
“I lost my son–there what more could you do to me you know than that there’s no worse punishment. You know than that and you know beat ourselves up you know there isn’t a day that doesn’t go by. There’s isn’t an hour. That doesn’t go by that I don’t think about him. You know. And instead of spending birthdays at you know somewhere at a cheese or friend’s house or have them parties will be going to Cemetery ( tomorrow) You know that’s how we celebrate our son’s birthday. You know for a three minute mistake. You know that cost us everything.”
Both Mark and Melissa wish every day that they could turn back the hands of time to reverse the tragedy.
And what makes their reality even more difficult is that Mark Easter is also Deputy Easter, a 17-year veteran of the Jackson County Sheriff’s department.
“I have other law enforcement friends as you know,, who say by the grace of God, it wasn’t me,” said Mark. “It could have easily been me at any time.”
So even with a father as a deputy and Michael wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps it wasn’t enough to keep him out of harm’s way.
“You can ask a child. Every child knows if you have a gun. Especially a lot of boys they know they’re curious. Yeah and no use hiding them or putting them up high. Or anything like that.. it’s a ticking time bomb.”
The Easter family is not alone in the this tragedy.
According to the Associated Press, statistics tracked by the gun violence archive from January 2014 to June of this year, show accidental shootings involving minors spike near the age of three and then again between fifteen and sixteen.
These accidental shootings seem to happen when a kid finds an unsecured gun at home like Michael did and in a matter of minutes, a mother’s hopes and dreams for her son are lost forever.
“It was just so quick and that’s how it is in life, it’s quick and now I get to live with that the rest of my life and you it hurts,” said a crying Melissa.
Days after Michael was killed Mark Easter says, as a way to protect his family and prevent something like this from ever happening again, he bought a safe.
“You know when I went to pay for it I knew that one hundred dollars for the safe that it cost me I could have prevented my son from dying and that will haunt me. That’s a cross that I got to bear. You know, I always thought that the threat was going to come from outside-inside and not from inside-out. You know it– the threat is in your home.”
And now this family speaks of time as either “before Michael” or “after Michael”.
“It’s been almost four years and it doesn’t get any easier. But it was something so simple that could I save his life.”
“We think it is important enough to tell people our story to listen, it doesn’t take long. You know it can happen in a blink of a minute. It will shatter your life and your life will never be the same and it could easily be avoidable.”
As Melissa and Mark wipe away their tears, they realize how a matter of seconds has left them to endure a lifetime of heartache.
“I’d trade my place in a heart beat if I could bring my son back right now. You know even for a minute. You see those Facebook posts you know what would you do. Who would you talk to on a park bench if you had five more minutes and I’d just like to hug them and tell him I love him and I’m sorry”