This story took some work to get put together. I heard about it while checking in with Jack Haley and knew it was too good to pass up, no matter how hard it would be to pull together.
If you ever heard Austin Haley’s story, you’ll never forget. The five-year-old boy was fishing with his grandfather in a backyard pond in Noble, Oklahoma in August 2007. Police were called to a neighbor’s house because a snake was trapped in a birdhouse. The officers decided to shoot the snake. One officer fired two shots. The bullets missed the snake, but hit and killed Austin Haley. This was quite possibly the most tragic story I have ever or ever hope to hear again. The story made headlines in Oklahoma and around the country.
Enter Chris Rogerson. He’s a composing student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. In August 2007, Chris was watching the news and heard about Austin’s death. He was so moved that he sat down at his piano and just played. What came next was, in my opinion, a masterpiece. He wrote the music for “Noble Pond,” a piano solo. Just recently he decided to orchestrate the piece to be performed by his school’s orchestra.
Chris found an address for Jack and Renee Haley and mailed them a simple note explaining who he was and what he had written in Austin’s honor. Jack Haley told me when he opened the card from Pennsylvania he was stunned. He couldn’t move. He called for his wife to come read the note. They both knew they had to make the trip to Philadelphia to hear the world premiere of the orchestra version of “Noble Pond.”
After finally tracking down Chris I was able to get the Fox affiliate in Philadelphia to hook up with Chris and shoot an interview for me. I am only sad the economy and our budget cutbacks prevented me from making the trip to Philly myself. I was amazed when I was finally able to see Chris perform the piano solo he wrote. I was moved by the music and also by the Philadelphia photographer’s shots. It was truly inspiring. In fact after seeing how well the story was shot, I felt an even bigger pressure to do this story justice. I wanted to live up to the amazing video I had in my hands.
I am hopeful Jack and Renee enjoy the story and the performance. I am hopeful Chris is able to get some publicity for his work. I love listening and performing music, however composing was never one of my strong suits. It’s always inspiring to me to see someone write and play music, especially something with that much emotion.
Austin’s story continues to inspire. Jack gave me an article written in a religious magazine. It shared the story of Austin’s faith in God and how he shared his beliefs with everyone he met. Austin’s story is also being used in a new training video for police about when to use deadly force.
What happened at a pond in Noble has inspired and changed the lives of countless people. Count me as one of them.
The Haley family are quite possibly the most amazing people I have ever met. They have an unshakable faith and have survived an unthinkable tragedy. I would say almost anyone who watches news anywhere around the country heard about what happened to their son. The story of two police officers in Noble accidentally shooting and killing Austin Haley made headlines around the country. Yes it was an accident, but a judge agreed that there was gross negligence involved when they chose to pull a gun and shoot at a snake stuck in a birdhouse. I can’t imagine the horror they live with knowing that stray bullet hit and killed a little boy.
From the time we first met the Haley’s they were very open and honest about their emotions and what they were going through. Sometimes I hate the part of my job that requires us to seek out grieving families and ask them to talk about the worst day of their lives. But every time I talked with Jack or Renee Haley I left feeling emotionally uplifted. It’s something about the grace they carried themselves with that was absolutely inspiring. During the trial, plea hearings and sentencing I admired how they were able to sit in a courtroom face-to-face with the men who killed their son. Accident or not, I don’t know if I could have done that. Yet even with their grief, they were able to forgive the men who took their son away from them.
Nine months after Austin’s death, it was my honor to report on the next chapter in their lives…the birth of a new baby boy. While no new child could ever replace Austin, the circumstance around the new child’s birth are extraordinary. How the night before Austin died he prayed for his mother to have another child, and he prayed that he would be the one to pick out that child. Add to that the memories of Austin’s brother who saw him get shot and can describe in detail what happened next. I am a man of faith, but I don’t know how anyone can hear him describe seeing Austin go up to Heaven without getting goosebumps. The faith of a child is a remarkable thing.
The Haley family reminds me there is still good in the world.