Grieving families help each other overcome tragedy of girl's death

Fighting back tears, Deanna Smith remembers her 9-year-old daughter Isabella Smith, better known as Bella."Bel...

Posted: Apr 18, 2018 4:31 PM
Updated: Apr 18, 2018 4:31 PM

Fighting back tears, Deanna Smith remembers her 9-year-old daughter Isabella Smith, better known as Bella.

"Bella was a character," she said. "Everybody knew Bella. I didn't know until afterwards how many people that child touched."

On February 26, life in the Smith household was forever changed.

"She wanted to get to cheer class early because her teacher said if she came early, 'We'll work on your backbend,'" Smith said. "She was so excited, so we were leaving early that night."

Deanna's daughter had just finished painting her nails.

"I asked her to go to the mailbox and she was so worried about her fingernails," Smith said. "The last thing I said to her was, 'don't worry about it. You can get the mail with the other hand. That was the last thing I said. She got out of the car and normally looked both ways. In fact, she checked it several times."

Far too distracted, Bella took off running toward the busy State Highway 154 in front of her Diana, Texas home.

Patrick Johnson, an area youth counselor and former pastor, was heading home to his family that afternoon.

He had been running some errands for an upcoming trip he was planning to take his students on.

Johnson was heading eastbound on 154, going the speed limit, when Bella suddenly appeared in front of him.

"It was just that fast," Johnson said. "It happened. I hit Bella. I don't know. It's like I'm in a bad dream or a horror movie or something."

Johnson jumped out of his car and ran to Bella's side.

"Deanna grabs my hand," he said. "We are both crying and praying and crying and praying."

"We were begging God to please save her," Smith said. "We held each other's hand and we prayed."

As reality set in that her daughter was gone, Deanna chose not to let anger fill her heart.

Instead, she saw another victim in this tragedy.

"I kept telling Patrick before I left his side, 'It's not your fault,'" Smith said. "It was not his fault. My daughter was the one who didn't look."

Deanna's compassion was captured in a photograph taken at Bella's funeral.

The picture features Deanna and her 11-year-old son, Brennan, hugging Johnson near Bella's casket.

That image has been shared by hundreds on social media and continues to make its rounds across the internet.

Referring to the photograph, Deanna tells Patrick, "Something in me made me get up and come hold you. I just saw you and you were so vulnerable."

"That day I knew that going and viewing the body and looking at Bella was part of the healing process," Johnson said. "I had to do it, but I was walking as slow as I could. My wife was holding me. Inside I was saying, 'Lord give me strength, Lord give me strength.'"

"You would have to know Jesus to step out and not hate him or hold a grudge against him," said Patrick's wife, Shanna Smith. "You would have to know that God was in the midst of it all."

Since the tragedy, both families have become close friends.

"I thought about how it was closer to the time of the funeral and everybody was getting ready," Johnson said. "I'm sitting there helping Brennan get ready and some of the other family members and the kids button up their shirts. It was as if we had known each other all our lives. It's hard to explain."

Johnson now uses the tragedy when ministering and counseling others.

"I have a feeling that that is why it was him that this happened to, so that I could meet him," Smith said.

"I wish we could have met him when my big brother was having his problems and he needed help with somebody," Brennan said.

Together, the Johnson's and Smith's are lifting each other up and carrying on the memory of little Bella, the girl who touched lives and many more she never had the pleasure of meeting.

"We're going to make it through this," Johnson said while hugging Deanna. "God is going to get the glory in all of this."

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