The hardest part for Missy Wallace is not hearing her sons voice over the phone.
They spoke every day, but it has been four years since shes heard his laugh or listened to him tell a joke.
If you ever met him, youd never forget him, she said.
Wallace, a dispatcher for the York Police Department, is determined not to forget.
When I quit talking about DJ is when hell really die, she said. That will never happen.
DJ born Donnie Eugene Kimble II is always on his mothers mind. But after learning that an 11-month-old Chester County girl was killed two weeks ago, her heart aches more than usual.
Madison Stewart died Sept. 20 after police say she suffered severe head injuries inflicted by Jeffery Todd Bradley, a 27-year-old Iraq War veteran now charged with homicide by child abuse. He is being held at the Chester County Detention Center without bond.
Deputies and family members have said that Bradley was the boyfriend of Penny Stewart, Madisons mother. They had lived together since April in a mobile home on Hardin Strait Road near Lowrys.
On Sept. 18, Madison Stewart was taken by helicopter to Levine Childrens Hospital in Charlotte. Bradley initially told police she had been electrocuted after putting a phone charge cable in her mouth. He later told investigators she had fallen.
After he called for help, Bradley performed CPR on Madison for about 11 minutes, according to a recording of the 911 call he made. Police charged Bradley when his account of what happened to Madison was not consistent with her injuries a fractured skull, internal brain bleeding and kidney injuries.
Madison died two days later. She was buried at Rock Hills Grandview Memorial Park on Tuesday.
Its a bad thing to go through, Wallace said.
She knows from experience. Her son DJ died Feb. 11, 2009, when a friends gun he was looking at went off. He was 19.
The avid skateboarder was the youngest of Wallaces three children. He was the only one who still lived with her.
Now, hes skateboarding on the streets of gold, she said.
She knows what Penny Stewart will face, and she knows it wont be easy.
No one is around
Hester Addison-Benitez of Rock Hill is all too familiar with the grieving process.
Her son, 21-year-old Roderick McClure, and her husband, James Addison, died after a drunk driver hit them on Dec. 26, 1996, in Las Vegas, Nev.
For the next several years, Addison-Benitez helped other victims who had lost loved ones in her role as a victims advocate.
During that time, though, she never confronted her own pain.
I couldnt see beyond my grief, but I could go help someone else, Addison-Benitez said. I wanted my husband and son back. To try and grieve both at the same time I basically lost it.
Six years later, on Mothers Day, she asked God to either let her live or let her die. When she got up the next morning, she finally started to grieve.
Years later, Benitez has channeled her grief into advocacy.
She is executive director of Rock Hills STOP Impaired Driving, a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading the word about the dangers and consequences of drunk driving.
Though a drunk driver didnt kill Madison, Addison-Benitez said, she can relate to her mothers pain.
When any mother loses a child, its devastating enough, Addison-Benitez said. But when you lose a child at the hands of another and you cant do anything about it, its harder. My son being 21 is no different than this child being 11 months.
I hurt for her, she said of Stewart. I wish I could go there and hold her. I cant take away her pain we have to go through that pain.
Shes going to want to shy away, Wallace said of Stewart, whom she met while driving buses for the York School District. Shell need to find a support group.
Shell need good, godly support, Addison-Benitez said. Somebody who will let you talk about your baby when you want someone who has a lot of compassion, a lot of sympathy, a lot of empathy and a lot of patience.
And someone who is consistent.
For the first few weeks, Wallace said, everybodys there. But as days pass and life goes on, then, no one is around.
Shell get a bit of attention now, Addison-Benitez said. Madisons death will continue to grab media attention as the case moves to court. But, when the case is adjudicated...then, bam shell be alone.
Lisa Harris, who lost her 7-year-old son, Keith, in 2008, still has her moments. Each year, the former Hickory Grove woman eats ice cream and cake at her sons grave on his birthday.
Its going to be hard, Harris said of what lies ahead for Stewart. Shes got to know somebody that she can say (to), Hey, Im having a moment.
Keith told his mother he wanted to enlist in the Army or the Marines. He never crawled, she said, he only walked. He never used training wheels on his bike. He loved the outdoors and his four-wheeler, which he would ride to neighbors houses.
He was riding that four-wheeler Aug. 4, 2008, when he ran into the back of a logging truck.
His spinal cord snapped.
The first few days I was just in shock, Harris said. Those are days I dont really remember.
I do remember being numb. I prayed constantly because I didnt have anybody else. A week or so after the funeral, there was nobody. Youre just sitting there alone.
Family members would rush off the phone if Harris started crying, she said. A co-worker recently asked her if shes ever seen a dead body. She broke down in tears.
Harris was the third person to get to the scene of Keiths accident. Her daughter, now 10, was close behind. The girl is still in therapy.
People treat you differently, she said. They dont know how to act. I dont think people should treat (us) differently because we lost a child.
No, you cant
Wallace isnt a fan of the platitude: I can only imagine. Shes heard the cliché too many times.
Her answer: No, you cant. Some of you complain because your child lives in another state. Heres the thing. You can see that child. I dont have that option until I die.
The only option Wallace has is a cabinet she keeps in her living room. Its filled with DJs military uniform, his skateboard, his ashes and the clothes he wore the night he died.
Memories and pictures, she said, thats all Penny will have.
Wallace still feels blessed. She had 19 years with DJ. Penny Stewart had 11 months with Madison.
Harris, who moved to Gaffney in 2011, still celebrates Keiths birthday. She places a small Christmas tree on his grave every year and still buys him presents. He also gets an Easter basket.
When she hears the words, I can only imagine, she says: Theres nothing you can say to me to take my pain away. There are no words.
Nobody could ever imagine the pain. I tell people, You dont want to know my pain. Im going to have to deal with this the rest of my life.
In addition to the pain, Penny Stewart will feel guilty, Addison-Benitez said, because her boyfriend has been accused in the death of her child.
Shes got that to deal with, she said. Shes going to ever be reminded of that.
Shell also have to overcome comments, Addison-Benitez said, from cruel people who got their own opinions, who dont know the story, dont know the situation, but always have an opinion.
Addison-Benitez cant bring herself to go to a childs funeral. Wallace cant either. Despite their show of strength, both women still have their bad days.
At the same time, both are women of faith who said they never blamed God for their childrens deaths. He keeps them strong, they said.
If I didnt believe in Him, Id probably kill myself, Wallace said. Its that bad. Its such a roller coaster of emotions.
Wallace is looking forward to Gods promise that I will see (DJ) again one day. Until then, I will keep his memory alive down here.
Justice needs to be served
Over the years, Addison-Benitez has been to dozens of court hearings, standing beside victims as they confronted the people who took away family members.
She said she doesnt want to judge Jeffery Bradley.
Homicide by child abuse is a felony that, upon conviction, is punishable by 20 years to life in prison. Penny Stewart wont have much say in what punishment Bradley might receive, Addison-Benitez said. Shell have to sit back and see how the state prosecutes its case.
Its rough, its going to be rough on her, she said. All I know is justice needs to be served.
Madison Stewarts family agrees.
Early last week, her grandparents Patricia Noe and Tony Stewart said they wanted to make sure what happened to Madison would never happen to another child.
That baby was this familys whole life, Noe said. I never thought it would happen to us.
Noe and others in her family are taking an activist role against child abuse. They wear shirts with a blue ribbon and Madisons face emblazoned on the back. The words Madi Cakes are on the front, along with the dates reflecting her short lifespan.
Penny Stewart, meanwhile, has gone to Florida with her mother to get away, Noe said.
If Lisa Harris could speak with Penny Stewart, she would offer her cell phone number and tell the mourning mother to call her any time.
Shes going to need support, Harris said. Thats the only way you can make it support and prayer.
The hardest part for Harris is knowing you cant give up, you have to face it, she said. She talked about Gods will.
For some reason, He thought I was strong enough to deal with this.
Jonathan McFadden • 803-329-4082