EVERGREEN, AL (WSFA) -
Karen Layton had no idea that it was 10-year old Dawson Kirksey who was trapped in the car along with his younger sister and their mom.
A retired school teacher allegedly ran into the back of the family car in a construction zone not far from Sparta Academy.
"At first we had no idea. I figured it was serious but you don't let yourself go there," said Layton.
A few minutes later the terrible truth arrived at Sparta Academy in Conecuh County; Dawson Kirksey died.. sister Kourtlann and their mother critically injured.
In a matter of seconds Karen Layton went from being Dawson's very own 5th grade teacher to counselor, mom and dad rolled in one. Mrs. Layton says facing the children was a tough assignment. She and the principal told them the news and at that point Layton simply listened as some students cried and asked questions.
"It was hard," said Layton.
Layton knows what sudden death looks like. She understands grief and knows the deep confusion the class found itself in, most of them for the first time.
"God puts us in situations in our lives to prepare all of us to be able to help them. I had lost a husband 16 years ago. I had a 2-year old and pregnant with one. That helped a lot," said Layton.
Sparta Academy declined to let us interview any of Dawson's classmates or any other student but Layton says they're doing 'okay' and handling Dawson's death about as well as anyone could at their level of maturity.
One reason may be the 'perspective' Karen Layton delivered.
"I told them I have no doubt he's in Heaven laughing at the fact he doesn't have to do any homework. They got to thinking about that and thought 'wow!'," said Layton.
The school renamed a blood drive in Dawson's memory this week and people ended up donating a record amount. The goal was 40 pints. They got 50 pints.
In Dawson Kirksey's desk there is a stuffed animal placed in a box with handwritten notes from his friends, a popular student now gone, an emptiness made bearable thanks to a teacher who knows the pain of loss all too well.