North Minneapolis family suffers trauma, finds hope and help from St. Bridget parish community

| August 3, 2018 | 0 Comments
Kayden Peltier does some exploring in the living room with help from his parents, Kyle and Nicolle

Kayden Peltier does some exploring July 23 in the living room with help from his parents, Kyle and Nicolle, who were helping him find ways to play while wearing a metal halo to keep his head in place. He was hit by an SUV at Bohanon Park in north Minneapolis June 11 by a driver who was fleeing police. Kayden had surgery to fuse two injured vertebrae in his neck, and will have limited mobility for the rest of his life. The halo was removed Aug. 2. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

“Mommy, Kayden’s dead!”

These words horrified Nicolle Peltier the morning of June 11. They came over the phone, in a call alerting her that an SUV fleeing police had slammed into three of her seven children playing at a north Minneapolis park with her husband, Kyle.

Kayden, her 2-year-old, had been run over and was fighting for his life at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale with broken hip and pelvic bones, crushed vertebrae and a severely damaged spleen. Two of his siblings, Lillianna, 4, and Konnor, 3, were also hit, but did not suffer serious injuries.

Nicolle, 25, answered her cell phone around 9:15 a.m. as she was preparing to take a test at St. Paul College, where she is studying to become a lab technician. As the news was delivered by an adult at the accident site, she heard her children screaming and crying in the background. It was her 7-year-old daughter, Jullianna, who blurted out that Kayden had been killed. The four children who escaped harm, as well as Kyle, all witnessed the crash. Their oldest, 8-year-old Kyle Jr., was so traumatized that he hid under a table after being taken inside to safety.

Now the family, parishioners of St. Bridget in Minneapolis, are leaning on their Catholic faith and the generosity of friends and strangers to help them navigate the tragedy’s aftermath. Kayden didn’t die, as Jullianna had first thought, but his severe injuries have meant a new reality for the family. Meanwhile, all nine are still grappling in their own ways with what happened that morning at the park near their home.

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Kabaar Powell, the driver of the 1997 Ford Expedition that hit the family members, had led police on a six-minute chase that ended in Bohanon Park adjacent to Jenny Lind Elementary School on 49th and Dupont Avenues. Kyle had taken the children to this park, a mile from their home, at about 9 a.m. to play games, a favorite family pastime. They arrived after dropping off Nicolle for her test.

“I was just playing with the kids, watching them on the swings, and I was playing basketball with Lillie and Kayden,” said Kyle, 30. “I just heard sirens for the longest time, and thought nothing of it. Oh well, it’s Minneapolis, there’s going to be sirens. We were playing, I was shooting hoops. Lillie and Kayden were chasing the ball and giving it back to me. In one instant, I looked in the back of me and saw a black SUV come towards us.”

When Kayden ended up pinned beneath the tires of the SUV, it seemed inconceivable to his father — who had pushed the youngest child, 8-month-old Millianna, to safety — that something so awful could happen in a place so serene and far from the road.

“We’re playing in a park. I thought it was safe,” Kyle said.

Instead, the children appeared to be targeted by a driver who not only was making a last gasp at escape, but seemed determined to hurt someone in the process. The Peltiers were the only ones in the park that morning, and they were playing well away from the road. They say there was plenty of time and room for the driver to swerve away from the kids.

Now, they must deal with a son who will be permanently impaired by the tragedy, and had to wear a metal halo to support his head for several gut-wrenching weeks to prevent further injury to his spine and give it time to heal.

They also must deal with the constant nightmares and terrors experienced by the older children, who routinely wake up crying and sometimes attempting to run away from the SUV in their dreams. There’s also their own trauma, which they say they barely have time to process.

And, somewhere in the midst of a life Nicolle says looks like “a blender without the top on,” they search for God.

It’s not easy. Both Kyle and Nicolle swell with anger when talking about a driver whom they think deliberately hit their children.

“I have absolutely no doubt that he did it on purpose,” Nicolle said. “You can see from the street if there’s people in that park or not. And he made that decision to go into the park where the children were. … It’s so far deep into the park where he drove. There’s no way that that could be an accident. There’s no way that … he [merely] lost control. No, he purposefully made that decision. And, our family has to live with the consequences.”

The center of the after effects is Kayden, who rolled “four or five times” after the vehicle struck and ran over him, Kyle said. Immediately, the other children flocked to him, even Lillianna, who herself had been run over but suffered no broken bones. Meanwhile, Konnor lay motionless on the grass after being thrown from the swing Jullianna had been pushing. He was not physically injured, but went into shock. Lillianna suffered a mild brain injury that doctors continue to monitor.

After Kayden arrived at North Memorial, doctors removed his spleen and put the halo on his head to keep his head still and avoid further injury. Several days later, using some of his rib bones, doctors at Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis performed fusion surgery on the top two vertebrae at the base of his skull. Once he was home, caring for him round the clock became the family’s central task.

It’s exhausting work, requiring not only effort to help their active toddler navigate 8 extra pounds of metal attached to his head, but acute alertness to make sure he doesn’t take a fall that could push the halo pins into his brain.

However, Nicolle holds a resolute belief that God spared her son, and her heart is filled with gratitude for being able to cuddle with him every night in bed.

“I’m glad that I get to spend every waking moment with my son because there could have been the opposite effect where I wouldn’t have any time with him at all,” she said. “So, I’m grateful for that time, as hard as it is.”

It is hard. Already stressed by a challenging lifestyle involving six young children 8 and under, and Kyle’s modest-paying newspaper delivery job that puts him on the road from 2-6 a.m. seven days a week, they now have to navigate both the physical and emotional effects of a tragedy Nicolle says they simply “can’t handle” by themselves.

But, through it all, the Peltiers are guided by a childlike faith that does not question God and what he has allowed to happen in their lives.

“A lot of people have actually asked, ‘Why do you still believe in a God that would hurt your child?’” Nicolle said. “And my answer to that is I don’t believe that it was God who did that. … They say, ‘Oh, well God could have prevented it.’ I don’t think that God has been mean or evil to us in any way. I think that he’s been very gracious to let us keep Kayden and Lillie and Millie. … So, as far as my faith, I think it’s stronger than it ever was.”

The “why” questions are much tougher for Kyle, who battles anger every day, along with guilty feelings for not being able to move Kayden out of harm’s way, but he channels his energy toward caring for his children, focusing lots of love and attention on Kayden.

“If Kayden’s having a good day, I’m having a good day,” Kyle said. “That’s what helps.”

Sadness, anger, confusion have roiled through Kyle in the weeks since the accident. Providing pastoral guidance to the family is Father Paul Jarvis, senior associate pastor of St. Bridget. He first met the Peltiers when they joined the parish in March shortly after moving to Minneapolis from St. Paul; they had previously attended St. Agnes after moving to Kyle’s native Twin Cities from California in June 2016. Father Jarvis has become a regular visitor to the home.

“When this [accident] happened … I knew something beautiful could come from this ugliness,” he said. “There’s always some silver lining. There’s always some ‘God opportunity’ with every tragedy.”

Part of that silver lining is the response of the St. Bridget’s faith community. Even though the Peltiers are new to the parish, scores of members have responded with help, ranging from meals and babysitting to donations to the family’s GoFundMe account, which now stands at $40,050 with no indication of how much more will be needed to cover the family’s mounting medical costs.

One parishioner, Mary Majkozak, works closely with the family to coordinate outreach from the parish. She serves as the point of contact with the Peltiers, who call her a “beacon of grace.” She fields countless calls and inquiries from people wanting to help.

“I think they’ve felt loved,” said Majkozak, director of faith formation for St. Bridget, Ascension in Minneapolis and Our Lady of Victory in Minneapolis, of the Peltier family. “You always feel alone when you’re going through tragedy. But, I think we’ve made them know that they aren’t. … The parish of St. Bridget is remarkable.”

Majkozak is quick to add that the outpouring of support extends well beyond the parish. People from the area, including those from other Catholic and Protestant churches, have pitched in. The Northside Knights of Columbus council No. 4451 donated part of the proceeds from a July 30 charity golf tournament.

“All the other people who have called and wanted to help amazes me,” Majkozak said. “I know God’s at work through the beauty in the hearts of all these people.”

The Peltiers are bolstered by the love poured out on them by their new parish community.

“They’ve been great. Just supportive,” said Kyle, who grew up in South St. Paul and belonged to St. Augustine. “A lot of prayers went out to Kayden. I’m pretty sure that helped him. We’re grateful. People actually do care.”

Cooking for a large family is a challenge, so Nicolle appreciates the many meals that have given her a break from the kitchen.

“My dad raised me to believe that food is love,” she said. “So when people bring you food, you never take that for granted because they had to take time to think about nourishing you.”

In addition to the blessings coming from the outside are the ones sprouting from within. Kayden started sleeping in between Kyle and Nicolle every night so they could protect him from falling. That created intimate bonding time. Soon, it extended to all of the children, who joined in the new nightly routine that has become central to the family culture.

They’ll come to the bedroom around 8 p.m., watch a movie together, then end with prayer about 10:30 p.m. Usually, all of the children will be asleep by then, and Kyle and Nicolle will carry them to their bedrooms one at a time.

“I think that it’s super sweet. … a bonding experience for everybody,” Nicolle said. “It’s a very huge blessing to be able to nurture and care for your children in that way.”

Sometimes, while the children are snuggled in their bed and still awake, Kyle and Nicolle finally can relax just a little and experience moments of quiet.

“It’s rare,” Nicolle acknowledged. But, it happened the evening of July 23 while the kids were watching a movie about the birth of Jesus, snuggled in their parents’ bed. Kyle and Nicolle slipped away to the living room and stole a few precious moments together.

Surrounded by more than a dozen large cushions the kids play on, and underneath green crepe paper vines Nicolle hung to create a “jungle” for the kids, she and Kyle took just a minute to rekindle a romance that sparked when they met in California at a Ford dealership in 2009. She was 16, and he was serving in the Marine Corps. They got married a few months later in Las Vegas.

After quickly cleaning the dining room, they turned to face each other, then held hands. They embraced, kissed and said, “I love you.”

In the turbulence since June 11, they’ve relished the bright spots, like having a double first Communion at their house June 18 for Kyle Jr. and Jullianna, just a week after the incident.

The children had been preparing for the sacrament, and Father Jarvis thought it only fitting to do it at the home. He also celebrated a baptism the same day. Nicolle’s father, Timothy Brinkley, was so touched by the way the parish community had been caring for the family, he asked if he could be baptized.

Father Jarvis agreed. Nicolle’s mother, August Brinkley, also wants to join the Church. She and Timothy have mentioned enrolling in Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults when they get back to California. Nicolle herself became Catholic in 2016, shortly after she became pregnant with Kayden.

August has been in town periodically since the accident to help out, and she is planning to stay for the month of November. That is when Nicolle is due to deliver the couple’s eighth child, a boy they have named Killian Jax. The pregnancy has caused further strain on the family, because he has a condition called omphalocele, in which his organs are developing outside his body. Nicolle is scheduled for a caesarian delivery Nov. 9, followed immediately by Killian’s surgery to move his organs inside his abdominal cavity.

But, there’s three months worth of everyday life to get through before they can worry about child No. 8. Kayden’s condition has recently included inpatient physical therapy at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, and the removal of his halo Aug. 2, but his recovery will still be a long road.

Along the way, Kyle and Nicolle will address perhaps the toughest challenge of all — attempting to forgive the driver who nearly killed their son. Powell recently pleaded guilty to two felonies and is expected to face up to three years in prison. Kyle and Nicolle were in the courtroom to hear his plea July 11, and said they felt Powell showed no remorse for his crimes.

“Right when it happened, I had so much rage,” Kyle said. “I just saw red. … I was just so angry. I don’t think I’ve ever been so mad. I just screamed, kept going. As days go by, I want to forgive him. It’s hard to look at him and not get angry. I’m doing my best. I’m just caring for Kayden and not worrying about him [Powell].”

“I just feel sorry for him,” Nicolle said. “I feel sorry for my son, I feel sorry for my daughter, I feel sorry for my kids, I feel sorry for my husband, I feel sorry for my family, but most of all I feel sorry for him because it takes a special kind of [angry] person to do that to somebody and not feel bad. So, I pray for forgiveness for him, and I pray for forgiveness for me for holding a grudge. I just feel really sorry in general.”

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