CAROLINE COUNTY, Va. – November 5, 2015, seemingly began like most any other day for the Brown family, unbeknownst to them their world would be upended within just hours of awakening.
“It was like a movie that I was watching and it wasn’t real because you don’t think it will happen to you,” said Melissa Brown, mother of Ian and Jalen Brown, two Spotsylvania High School brothers.
Brothers and best friends, Ian and Jalen hugged mom goodbye before heading to school.
Mother Melissa, a teacher herself, was not far behind them.
“I was driving and ahead of me I saw there had been an accident,” she recalled. “I got closer and saw it was a red vehicle and thought that can’t be them.”
The same red Jeep that just pulled out of her driveway had crashed into a tree with her 18 and 15-year-old sons inside.
“It didn’t look bad, so I thought I’ll get out of the car and they’ll get out,” Melissa said.
But Melissa was stopped before she could get to the Jeep and her boys still weren’t getting out.
She phoned her ex-husband David.
“She said, 'I can’t get to them they’re in a ditch, they hit a tree,'” father David Brown recalled.
He immediately headed over.
“I kept thinking if they were okay they would say they are enroute to such and such hospital; nobody was giving me that,” David said.
Upon arrival, he too was stopped by an officer.
“He said you can’t get through there’s been an accident,” David recalled. “I said yeah, those are my kids I need to get through to get to my kids.”
“He wouldn’t look at me, that is when it kind of, that’s when you start thinking bad things,” David added.
Minutes felt like hours as the couple waited for official news.
“I was thinking bad things, I was thinking hopeful things, I was praying,” David said, “I was worried it was one, I never considered two.”
“I actually got an alert on my phone that there had been a fatal accident in Caroline,” Melissa said. “I didn’t want to believe it, so I didn’t.
“It was right before we found out,” she added.
The terrible news
The Browns were met at the police station by a chaplain.
“They told us they had passed away and one of us answered which one? Who? And they were like both of them -- and that`s when the bottom dropped out,” David said.
“They told us that both of them had passed away on impact that it was severe whip lash,” he added.
The Browns said there were conflicting reports whether Ian died on impact or if he received aid at the scene. They said neither child would have been the same had they survived the crash without the other.
“If Ian knew that Jalen had passed away he’d of left to make sure Jalen was okay and to deliver Jalen to heaven where he needed to be,” David said.
“My grandma said it was better for both of them to go together because they wouldn’t have been able to handle it by themselves because they were so tight,” he added.
It was a single-vehicle crash, and at the time, police could not say for certain what caused it.
"It was, I believe foggy that time of the morning around 7:12 and the road were a little wet at that point," Sgt. Steve Vick with Virginia State Police said.
Their legacy lives on
Six months later, at the accident scene, memories survive the seasons, of Ian-the sports fanatic, known as “the funny man with the plan.”
“He always had a smile, he was just a good kid he was nice to everybody,” Melissa said.
Jalen, the track star with the infectious smile, would have just celebrated his 16th birthday.
“Jalen was just a gifted runner,” Melissa said. “He just ran when he was little, he never learned how to ride a bike, he just ran everywhere with his friends.”
“They weren’t here long enough, but they made a long lasting impression on the people that they knew and that gets shown by what gets left at the tree,” David said. “We knew they were great we didn’t know everybody else did.”
This June, Jalen would be walking out of high school with his sophomore year behind him, and Ian would have his diploma in hand.
Instead, one of Ian`s classmates will receive help with his higher education, in honor of the two brothers.
The Browns have in front of them a stack of essays on “kindness,” the theme for the scholarship fund they established in their sons` names.
“Why do you think simple acts of kindness are important?” Melissa read.
“No greater joy comes from putting a smile on someone’s face,” David read.
Something Ian and Jalen’s parents said the brothers did plenty of in their short life -- and continue to do through with memories.
“I think they would be saying they are still with me and still watching me and hopefully they are proud of me,” Melissa said.
“They were amazing boys. I will miss the anticipation of the next thing,” David said.
The Browns said they get through each day with the help of their supportive family and friends and by keeping their sons’ names alive with the scholarship fund.
If you would like to support the fund, it can be found here.
The first scholarship will be awarded Sunday, May 22. Melissa resigned from her teaching job and is in the process of selling the family home. She said it’s just too painful to return so she has been staying with a friend since the accident.
David is planning a 5K in their sons’ honor.