Father takes late son's spot at the prom
It was supposed to be a night reserved for Kaylee Suders and Carter Brown, a young couple with plans to be together on her senior prom night, in college and beyond.
Suders feels like she got the next best thing — Carter's dad, Robert Brown, took his late son's place Saturday at James Buchanan High School's big dance one month after a fatal crash. They went as far as cleaning out Carter's Audi TT and having dinner at T.G.I. Friday's where the young couple had their first date.
"It's a great story," Suders said. "It is great that it's getting out. It's not the way I'd want to be known. It's a tragedy, but I'm glad people want to know about it and feel emotion toward it. I'm glad they're getting to know our story."
Carter was driving home on the morning of Sunday, April 15 from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus to surprise Suders, but died about an hour away from his hometown of Mercersburg in a three-vehicle crash, according to state police in Huntingdon.
Carter and Suders, who dated for more than a year, probably would have talked about their future — his seven-week summer externship in Florida, her joining him at IUP and where they wanted to travel after school.
"He was an all-around great person and my best friend," Suders said. "He always could light up an entire room. He could also talk you into doing anything. He was one of the best people that's ever been around. You couldn't find anyone that would ever say a bad thing about him."
About a week after the crash, Robert Brown wondered what Suders would do for her senior prom.
"My son was a sweet, caring kid, and Kaylee is very sweet, too, and she is a part of our family," he said. "When the passing topic of prom came up, I kept thinking my son would want her to go. That prompted me to get the ball rolling."
Brown got permission from the school to take Suders, who didn't want to go anymore. With tears welling up in her eyes, she changed her mind when he asked her.
"I was kind of surprised before he asked me, and it was really, really heartwarming," Suders said. "I didn't have to think about it. I definitely said 'yes.' It was so great of him to ask me."
Brown did it because he wants the best for his kids. He said Suders is like a daughter to him.
"We have four sons, and we lost our second oldest, Christopher, seven months before we lost Carter," Brown said. "Life will have all kinds of curve balls that you can't control. You have to have strength and courage to move forward. We lost two of our children. Our circumstance happened that way. You just learn to be able to go on and live for and care for everyone you still have with you."