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Parents of child who died of heatstroke hope to help other families

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Stephanie and Aaron Gray Stephanie and Aaron Gray
Joel Gray Joel Gray
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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

The parents of a boy who died last summer after being left alone in a hot car for hours are speaking out, hoping their story will prevent another tragedy.

Joel Gray died when his mom thought he had been at daycare, only to later find him still in the back seat of her van.

It was a terrible accident that had parents asking how it could happen.

"I just kept thinking, 'I am going to wake up. This isn't happening to me,'" said mother Stephanie Gray.

The mother still struggles with her son's final moments.

"It's an image I would love to forget to see, your child - who, hours before, was perfectly healthy and happy - lying lifeless in car seat, pale, blue and not responsive," she said.

Aug. 7, 2012, was supposed to be Joel's second day at daycare. His mother had dropped off the family's other children at school and thought she had also dropped off Joel.

She then went home, worked in her office and even emailed pictures of Joel to her family. Later that afternoon, she went to pick up Joel from daycare but was told she had never dropped him off that day.

"I was frozen with the fear of, 'Where is my child? What have I done? Where is he?' And immediately it struck me like a bolt of lightning: the car," Stephanie Gray said.

It was 2:30 p.m., and Joel was still in his car seat hours after she'd placed him there for the morning drive to daycare.

Temperatures that day reached into the 90s, and it was even hotter inside the car.

Stephanie Gray rushed her son inside the building where paramedics tried CPR, but Joel had already died.

For Stephanie Gray, it's hard to explain how that day played out.

"In my mind, I thought I had done something that I hadn't done," she said.

Now, Stephanie Gray and her husband, Aaron Gray, are speaking out, letting parents know this can happen to anyone. They are urging parents to come up with a system to ensure they always check on their child.

They recommend leaving something that you already take with you daily - a cell phone, purse or even a shoe - in the back seat, so when you step out of the car, you are sure to also check in the back.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has several tips to prevent heatstroke. For more information, visit: http://www.nhtsa.gov/safety/hyperthermia.

Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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