Deanne Stein, News9.com
NOBLE, Oklahoma -- It's been just over four years since her young son was accidentally shot and killed by a police officer, but Renee Haley of Noble will always feel his presence in her heart. Now, she also will be greeted each day by a life-sized statue of her beloved Austin.
The family will unveil the bronze statue of Austin Monday evening in honor of his birthday. Austin would have been 10 years old.
"It looks exactly like Austin. I was amazed," said Renee Haley, Austin's mother. "It brought tears to my eyes. He would have been a little bit taller now, but it's exactly what he would have looked like then."
Austin was only 5-years-old when he was shot and killed while fishing with his grandfather. It happened back in August of 2007, when Noble police officers Shawn Richardson and Brad Rogers were trying to shoot a snake out of a tree for a nearby resident. One of the shots hit Austin in the head. The two police officers involved in Austin's death pleaded no contest to manslaughter and received deferred sentences.
"We knew it was an accident, of course we did," said Haley. "We have forgiveness in our hearts toward the police officers. But of course, we're human and those feelings stir back up every once and a while and we just pray about it and ask God to help us through it."
3/31/2008 Related Story: Judge to rule on ex-officers' pleas
The family has since written a book called "The Austin Haley Story." Haley said while the first few chapters recount the tragedy of losing Austin, the book's focus is on healing.
5/25/2010 Related Story: 5-year-old Killed by Stray Bullet, Parents Write Book to Heal
"It was a tough book to write," recalls Haley. "I would sit at the computer each day and just cry, tears streaming down my face. Eventually though, through our disappointment and discouragement, somehow it helped us help other people. That's been the mindset we've had ever since we've lost Austin is how can we help others through their terrible situations, through their unthinkable tragedies."
Find out more about the book and Austin's story.
As the family continues to move forward, the statue of Austin will only serve as a reminder of the love that has held the family together. It was donated and created by John Gooden with John Gooden Studios. It was actually finished a few years ago, but the family said finding land to put it on was too expensive. So, they decided to put the statue of Austin on their own property at the foot of the driveway.
"It's almost like Austin is back home with us," said Haley. "Whenever I pull into our driveway, I see the statue of him sitting there and it brings tears to my eyes."
Since Austin passed away, Haley said the family has been blessed twice with the birth of their son Gabriel, 3, and daughter Mikayla, 6 months. They join their big brother Dalton, 7, who was just 3-years-old when Austin died. Despite his young age at the time, Haley said his memory of Austin is remarkable.
"He remembers him very well, we are amazed," said Haley. "We have pictures, but a whole body of Austin, he was amazed and shocked by that."
In fact, when Dalton saw the statue of Austin for the first time, Haley said he just stared at it for several minutes.
"He crawled up on the statue and gave him a big, long hug. It was just so sweet," recalled Haley. "He couldn't believe how much it looked like Austin. It brought back a lot of memories of him."
Dalton even sat down and wrote a story about his brother Austin after viewing the statue:
"The Day the Stachue [sic} Came Alive" Riten [sic] by: Dalton Haley
One day these people were putting up a statue of Austin, and surprise!!! I sat right beside him. When they were done, I hugged Austin. It felt like a golden ring going onto my hand. He looked like a handsome bubba, and I loved him very much. I was hugging it and hugging it and hugging it. My mama, Renee, was taking pictures...
When all of a sudden he came alive! We played my Wii together first. He said, "Bubba, this is so much fun. Do you want to go play outside?" I said, "Yeah, sure. Let's bring Gabriel and Mikayla. We'll jump on the trampoline and play on our swingset." Then, we went to go get a snack inside. We ate a chocolate chip cookie. After that, we went to play with my toys upstairs. Austin's favorite toy was Buzz Lightyear and Woody, too. My favorite was Austin being with me. We went downstairs to read our Bible. He stayed with us forever and ever and ever. I gave him hugs and kisses and more hugs and kisses. I didn't stop. He gave me hugs and kisses over and over, too. He loves me more than I love him and that's impossible because I love him too much. It made me feel like I had treasure from Heaven. He never had to leave--ever--ever. So, we lived happily ever after.