Ryan Perry's death: Turning tragedy into hope

By Jennifer Waugh, The Morning Show anchor, investigative reporter, jwaugh@wjxt.com
Published On: Nov 07 2012 01:00:03 PM EST
Updated On: Nov 05 2012 10:15:00 PM EST

The parents of the 10-year-old who died while playing on a ropes course at the Bolles School are speaking out for the first time.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

One step forward at a time; that's all Alan and Elizabeth Perry say they can do right now.  It's been about two months since their 10-year-old son Ryan died while playing on a ropes course at the Bolles Middle School. 

Ryan was a fifth grader and he and his sister were waiting for their older brother to finish football practice when Ryan somehow got his head entangled in one of the ropes.

"I miss his blonde hair, his quirky smile, his jokes," said Alan. "Yeah, he always had a new joke every day," Elizabeth added.

Both Elizabeth and Alan Perry admit they are barely hanging on. 

"We cry on each other a lot.  One cries, the other holds.  Next one cries, you just go back and forth," said Elizabeth.

They shared photos and home videos with Channel 4's Jennifer Waugh hoping the world will see what they've known for 10 years: Ryan was extraordinary.

"He just loved life, he loved nature, he loved everything," remembers Alan.

The family says it's the community made up of friends and strangers that has held them up since this tragedy.  That kindness has spawned a new mission for these parents.

McKenzie Wilson's mother and father are offering to use their daughter's charity run to create a run within a run for Ryan. McKenzie died suddenly two years ago at the age of 15, after a brief illness. She also attended Bolles.

"It was such a beautiful, gracious gesture of the Wilson's to think of us in that way and help us," explained Alan.

The Perry's would like to use the money raised to build a gym at their church, Ortega United Methodist Church, to honor Ryan and his love for sports.

"It seemed like a perfect gift of God to take something tragic and be able to do something positive with it," said Elizabeth.

The Perry's have leaned heavily on their church in these darkest days.

"And one of my prayers is that I ask Jesus to sit on his throne and put Ryan in his lap and hug him and love him and envelope him with God's love because we can't hug him anymore," said Alan.

"So I think faith is the key to being able to survive," added Elizabeth.  "You don't get over, you don't get through, you don't forget the loss of a child, but you have faith that if you just can get through this life, you will see them again, so that's the biggest part."

Until then, Ryan's room remains untouched.  His Halloween decorations were still hung and a mother will never forget the last moment she had with her son on this Earth and she shared it with Jennifer Waugh.

"I just remember giving him huge hugs and have special time with him that morning and to be able to tell him how much you love him.  I mean, so in all the sadness, at least you have the beauty of being able to know your last words were about loving him and telling him how proud you were because he was a great little boy, he was just so happy."

Ryan was brushing his teeth that morning when his mom slipped into his bathroom to say goodbye before heading off to work.  It's amazing how those little moments you never think could be your last with your child, something Jennifer said she realized herself after spending time with the Perry family.

The Perry's also told Jennifer how close Ryan was with his 8-year-old sister Laura and his 13-year-old brother Alan.  It's been very difficult for them dealing with Ryan's death.  Explaining to them how their brother was taken so suddenly has been a painful conversation.

"I tell the children, Ryan at that moment, he fell asleep and he woke up in heaven and there is grace in that; there's grace in that," said Elizabeth.

Ryan and his brother Alan shared the same bedroom their whole lives.

"It took six to seven weeks before Alan was even comfortable to go into his room and be more comfortable than upset being in there," explained Elizabeth.

But the Perry's are taking small steps.

"It's a thousand pound weight on the back of my neck and there is that brief moment when you're distracted by something, but it rushes back to you," said  Ryan's dad.

"I just keep trying to tell them that grief is just a sign of how much you love somebody and the fact that ours is so deep is just how much we loved him," said Elizabeth.

If you'd like to help the Perry family raise money in Ryan's name to build a gym at Ortega United Methodist Church, you can register for the McKenzie Run at www.mckenziesrun.org.  Be sure to select "team" first and then write "Running for Ryan" as the team name to ensure the money will go to Ryan's charity.

Donations can also be made to the church in Ryan's name directly at 4801 Roosevelt Blvd., Jacksonville FL 32210.

A one-mile fun run/walk will begin at 9 a.m. followed by a 5K at 9:30 a.m. Runners will finish inside EverBank Field.

Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert will be the captain of this year's race and will be on hand to meet with fans.

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