How could you not fall in love with him? With his sparkling brown eyes, bubbly personality and infectious smile, he quickly melted hearts. I first met him at the Secret Santa Shop I coordinated for Blessed Sacrament students last December. Dressed in a Western-style shirt, pressed jeans, and his beloved red and black Nikes, he was already a little ladies’ man – even at about 3 feet tall.
Definitely unforgettable as he bounced around that day, teasing and chattering as he picked out a Batman flashlight for his younger brother and an ornament for his Aunt Connie.
“I wish I could just take him home,” I remember saying. He was just so adorable.
Over the course of the school year, I heard much about this K4 student as he was the little buddy of my seventh grade daughter, Chiana.
He liked to wear his pants a little low, ‘cause that’s how his dad wore them. He preferred to have his shoelaces untied but tucked into his shoes, along with his pants.
One day recently, when Chiana dressed up for a forensics meet, this little 4-year-old took notice.
“Oooh, Chiana, you look really pretty today, just like a real lady,” he told her.
Another time, he got himself into a bit of trouble for punching a seventh grade boy who suggested that he should be his big buddy instead of Chiana.
A bit on the mischievous side, but a sweetheart, nevertheless.
He was the little boy in the sweater vest in the front row at the Christmas concert who sang so enthusiastically.
As she often shared stories of his antics with me, I remember frequently telling Chiana, “He’s such a cutie; how I’d love to take him home.”
Chiana still has the Valentine in her backpack that he gave her a few weeks ago, signed neatly, from “Torian.”
As the horrifying news of a triple murder of a mother and her two young sons unfolded on Friday, Feb 26, it never crossed my mind that there would be a link between this tragedy and my daughters’ school.
But when the names of the victims were announced … I wondered how many 4-year-old Torians lived in Milwaukee.
But how likely would that be? The victims’ home on Milwaukee’s South Side wasn’t close to Blessed Sacrament. For that matter, things like this don’t happen to sweet kids from Blessed Sacrament. They shouldn’t happen to any kids.
Tragically, it was Chiana’s little buddy, Torian Thompson-Carter, who was brutally murdered along with his little brother, Jaden and mother, Rachel Thompson. It’s an act that defies logic or reason.
In the hours after the murders, news reports and online chats focused on the background of the family, and some of the online comments were downright judgmental and rude.
As I read them, I became angrier and angrier, thinking of this sweet little boy with the perennial smile.
I learned that his mother, the one who saw that he was always dressed so well for school, took him by city bus to school. Yes, it was a two-bus commute, but it seemed to me that she was trying to make a better life for her son by taking him to a Catholic school across town, away from an area where violence and crime are common.
Describing Rachel as a “very good mother” during a memorial Mass for Torian, Cathy Dudzik, Torian’s K4 teacher, recalled how mother and sons would do their homework together on the bus. One day, he proudly came to school and told her he had his mother’s homework in his backpack to keep it safe for her.
How to make sense of this for my daughter? The only thing I could come up with in the face of this senseless act – that now the little boy who always seemed to watch out for her in the halls of Blessed Sacrament or wave to her from the front row during assemblies will forever watch over her as her little guardian angel.
For the rest of us, I wonder if there might be a lesson. While the murders were unpredictable and, perhaps, unpreventable, the incident opened my eyes to the reality that in our parish-school community, not everyone lives the perfect Cosby family life I might enjoy. How can we, as a society or small parish community, reach out to help more so that the Torians of our community can reach their full potential?
As people of faith, we believe Torian is home – God’s eternal home where 4-year-old boys with engaging smiles, charming personalities and heartfelt words are safe and loved.
Yet, how I wish I could have taken him home while he was brightening our lives – if only to shelter him from the evil of that one night on which his young, promising life was destroyed.