Published July 21, 2011
HOUSTON – A collision on a remote stretch of West Texas highway that killed a mother and father, orphaned their three children and left the two boys paralyzed has galvanized responses from San Francisco to Connecticut as people send comforting words and raise money for the children's care.
Returning home to Houston from a vacation in Colorado, Joshua and Robin Berry were killed when a vehicle crashed into their minivan. Their youngest child, 6-year-old Willa, suffered several broken bones and her brothers, 8-year-old Aaron and 9-year-old Peter, are permanently paralyzed.
While family members balance grieving with focusing on the boys' recovery, they have found comfort in how hundreds of people around the country have responded to the children's plight.
"It is incredible. When you stop to think about it, people are good. There is a lot of kindness out there," said Adam Berry, Joshua Berry's younger brother. "I lost my brother in this horrible accident. We are working with his kids that can't walk and we don't know if they will ever walk again. In such a huge way my family is grateful because (these efforts) really take our attention away. To see positivity in this is just really helping to carry us through."
Willa is now at home but her brothers remain hospitalized as they get ready to go through a difficult rehabilitation process.
Since the July 2 accident, people in such cities as Chicago, Dallas, Aspen, Colo., and Washington, D.C., have planned fundraisers or have already raised money for a trust fund set up for the children through bake sales, lemonade stands, benefit concerts, silent auctions, and sports tournaments. Celebrities such as Kourtney Kardashian and "Dancing with the Stars" host Brooke Burke have tweeted and blogged about the family's situation.
A Facebook page created to highlight the trust fund has become a way for family and friends as well as others across the U.S. to offer comfort but to also organize and publicize the fundraising efforts, which have so far raised more than $200,000.
In Baltimore, Allison Buchalter and her 9-year-old son Zachary set up a lemonade stand last weekend outside their home that raised more than $1,000.
"Being in Baltimore, being so far away, I wanted to do anything to help," said Buchalter, who attended Tulane University with Robin Berry. "We live on a busy street. I would tell passers-by the story. The more they learned, the longer they stayed, the more money they gave."
The Houston Dynamo, the city's Major League Soccer team, donated part of the proceeds from a game earlier this week to the trust fund. Several Dynamo players, as well as players from the Houston Astros, Rockets and Texans have also visited the boys in the hospital.
Adam Berry, 38, said he sees the response from people around the country as a tribute in part to his brother and sister-in-law, who were "just regular people but good people and outgoing in the community."
Joshua Berry, 41, ran a health care company and Robin Berry, 40, was an event planner. Another brother, Matt, and his wife are now the children's guardians.
While Aaron Berry remains at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, his brother Peter was transferred this week to Shriner's Hospital for Children in Chicago to begin physical rehabilitation treatment.
Aaron Berry, who is having some stomach problems, will join his brother for rehab once he gets better, said Dr. Charles Cox, director of pediatric trauma at Children's Memorial.
The boys are expected to be in rehab for six to eight weeks. Cox said while rehab will help them manage their daily lives, it probably won't help them walk again.
"It's permanent paralysis. We never say never, but in all likelihood, yes," Cox said.
Adam Berry said the family will hold on to hope that Aaron and Peter will walk one day, but his nephews will move forward whatever their circumstances.
"Sometime in the next couple of months, I'm hoping they will be back in school with their friends, doing fun things. If that means they are in a wheelchair, they will be in a wheelchair," he said. "But they will still play basketball. They will still be able to go places and do fun things, do as much as what any kid should do. It's all the family's job to see to that as much as possible."