Two weeks later everyone’s still searching: Searching for answers, searching for clues, searching for the piece of the puzzle that will wrap the investigation up.
It was dark and rainy on Thursday, Sept. 30.
Anthony Whiteman, a 15-year-old sophomore from Covington High School, had biked up to Walmart with his best friend, Nikolas. At about 8 p.m. he called his mother and told her he had left Nikolas’s father’s house and was on his way home.
The trip was a little over three miles, and it was a trip Anthony had made countless times on his custom bicycle, but he never made it back.
“Jenny could see the phone moving back and forth on Life360,” said Anthony’s aunt, Christina Fretz. “That was about 8:30 p.m.”
Jenny – Anthony’s mother, Jennifer Ferguson Whiteman – used the tracking app to keep an eye on her middle son’s whereabouts. She called him at about 8:30 p.m. and he didn’t answer. Chrissy also called – he always answered his aunt’s calls, she said – but that call went unanswered as well.
Premature birth and death
Anthony was born on April 14, 2006 at 28 weeks gestation. He weighed just 2 pounds, 10 ounces.
Chrissy said as a teenager he was a fixer, a mature mind.
“He is the brightest, most mature 15-year-old that you could ever talk to. He was very hands-on, always wanting to fix something.”
The sophomore was known around Covington for his unusual bike, one he’d assembled himself.
“He had customized his bike because he wanted a motorcycle, so his bike mimicked a chopper,” Chrissy said.
With that bike he traveled from his home on Ervin Lane into downtown Covington and over to Walmart. He loved riding and he loved fixing things, anything.
“He would go to community events and if something needed fixing, you know, he would fix it. He would fix lawnmowers or somebody’s bicycles … He’s always looking for a way to help people.He didn’t have to know you – if he saw you needed help he was going to help you.”
The day before the accident he started working on Chrissy’s car, which was recently involved in a minor accident, and had plans to fix it that weekend.
He never made it to the weekend, however. Not only was Anthony born prematurely, he died at an age most would consider premature as well.
Covington Police Capt. Jack Howell said officers were dispatched to Hwy. 51 near Garland Ave. at approximately 8:30 p.m. when a passing motorist reported seeing sparks come from an SUV. Anthony had been hit by the truck as he pedaled in the left lane of Hwy. 51 North.
Chrissy said they were told Anthony’s brain stem was broken on impact.
“We know that he did not feel the pain, but the way that he landed we were told that every bone in his body was broken, from his skull to his toes,” she said, noting Anthony also had a calcium deficiency.
His body laid on the asphalt until he could be transported to the Regional One Medical Center in Memphis just after 11 p.m.
Anthony was brain dead and was kept on life support until his organs could be harvested for donation.
It’s what he wanted, his aunt Chrissy said.
“He had already decided that when he died, whenever that was, he wanted to be an organ donor.”
He was a fixer even in death
Last week WREG published a story about Anthony’s death and the search for the driver of the vehicle that ended his life. Through that story his family learned he’d helped locate a missing one-year-old child just before he died.
“We didn’t even know … his mother and I learned that after the fact,” Chrissy said. “We learned that when everybody else learned it. But we weren’t surprised.”
Jenny reached out to the toddler’s mother, Sara Sparks, and Sara told her Anthony could have saved her son’s life.
“They live on a busy street and people fly. He very well could have prevented that baby from dying like he later did.”
And then there are the others whose lives he definitely saved.
Through his death he was able to fix other children whose lives depended upon organ donations.
“There is a teenager who has his heart, but because it’s pediatric we don’t know if it’s a male or a female. Both of his lungs, both of his kidneys, his liver and his pancreas. They harvested and donated to at least seven families. Up to seven people he was helping.”
Finding the driver
Jenny and Anthony’s dad, David, are doing well under the circumstances, Chrissy said.
“They know that this was his time and it would not have mattered if I had gone to pick him up … They know we all have an appointed time, you have your time, you can’t rush it. You can’t stop it.”
They’re angry about the other part, though.
The accident made headlines not only because of its tragic nature but also because police are still searching for the driver.
Surveillance footage shows Anthony riding in the area, but the accident happened outside of the camera’s range.
On Tuesday the police announced they’re looking for a tan or gold 2003-06 Chevrolet Avalanche.
Chrissy said the hardest part is knowing the person is not coming forward.
“With all of the reflectors on his bike you can’t say that you didn’t see him. Because you saw him … You can’t honestly say that ‘I didn’t know I hit a kid.’ You know you hit a kid. You know you didn’t hit a deer. You know you didn’t hit a raccoon. You have damage to your vehicle.”
Chrissy said they could be more forgiving if the driver had stopped and called police, but it’s harder to know the person is out there and not taking responsibility.
‘It’s a rollercoaster’
Most people have been kind to the family in their time of grief but there are people on social media saying horrible things to and about Anthony’s parents.
“It’s just been a rollercoaster. There are some people who are blaming Anthony, he shouldn’t have been doing that, he shouldn’t have been on the road … they blame his mom, they say ‘Where were the mom and dad that time of night?’ They were home, waiting for their kid.’ They’re good parents and they’re grieving parents.”
She said the situation has shown them the evil – how he was hit and left and how rude people can be – but at the same time they’re seeing God’s grace and goodness.
“It was God’s goodwill that took him like that and he didn’t suffer,” she said. “There’s God’s goodness in people through the generosity that they’re showing and asking ‘What can we do?’ and ‘How can we help?’”
As much as they’ve been overwhelmed by the bad, they’ve also been overwhelmed by the good. Someone paid for his casket spray, for instance, and other people have dropped off gift cards, brought food, and donated to the GoFundMe to help with burial expenses.
“Angels are everywhere, you just have to look,” Chrissy said.
Anthony will be buried Friday at Magnolia Gardens Cemetery in south Covington in a camouflage casket with camouflage interior. He will also be wearing camouflage.
“Everything’s going to be camo. That was his favorite,” Chrissy said with a laugh.
He was wearing a camouflage jacket with a patch on it when he was hit. That, along with his bicycle, is currently being held as evidence in the case against the driver, so the family doesn’t have it.
They’re doing their best to get through the services and advocate for justice for Anthony.
His mother lives with knowing she watched his location move around in the tracking app at the same time police believe the accident happened.
“I told her, ‘When you saw that line zig-zag, that might have been him getting hit …” Chrissy recalled.
Knowing he saved lives through organ donation is a comfort, but they’ll still miss the things many take for granted.
“When she was in his hospital room she said, ‘I hate that I’m not gonna see him graduate, I hate that I’m not going to see him at the altar to get married, I hate that I’m not going to see my grandbabies from him.’ That’s what’s haunting her.”
To help contribute to the GoFundMe, see https://bit.ly/3mUIcqm.