On a bitter cold night in Quinlan in Hunt County, a small town tried to surround a grieving family with as much warmth as they could just hours after their coldest and darkest day.
“Nothing can begin to explain the gratitude each and every one of you,” said a family member of Corey and Nathan Saunders as they were surrounded by hundreds of mourners on a field next to the parking lot of Ford High School.
They huddled in the cold, recited the Lord’s Prayer, held onto each other, struggled in a brisk winter wind to light candles, and tried to console Megan Saunders, 23, who on one morning, lost both her husband and her son.
“I wanted to tell him I loved him as a brother. And in my mind he was a brother,” said Corey Saunders’ brother-in-law Billy Clark. “I never had the chance to tell Corey how I really felt. I knew if I did he would call me a girl and punch me,” he joked through his tears.
Saunders and his 5-year-old son Nathan were on their first duck hunting trip together early Monday morning. They left on a small boat as a storm with high winds swept across Lake Tawakoni. Their bodies were found in the water hours later. Nathan first, then his father the next day. Police say they were not wearing life jackets. Their boat was found overturned on a stump.
“He was a wonderful kid full of love and hugs,” Clark said of his nephew Nathan.
As the crowd of friends and family shivered in the cold a pastor tried to provide comfort.
“Lord we ask you to put a hand of protection around this family as they try to deal with something that’s just too tragic to comprehend,” he prayed.
The family did bring with them to the vigil the only survivor of the hunting accident. The family dog “Hunt” was the only one able to swim to shore. Police say the dog also helped lead them to the little boy’s body.
There is a GoFundMe page to help the family with funeral expenses. Friends are also selling long-sleeve camo shirts to raise additional money. The shirt has a symbol on the sleeve to match Corey’s tattoo. And on the back, in a tribute to a self-described country boy and his son, it says “we will meet you in the eternal blind.
“In my prayers I told them I will see them at the gates knowing they will be there with arms wide open to greet us when our time comes,” said the little boy’s uncle Clayton Thompson. “We loved them very much. And we will see them there.”
Funeral arrangements are being made for this weekend. Corey Saunders was the sole provider for the young family, which also welcomed their second son just one month ago.