CLEBURNE You haven't heard Lilly Parsons' story.

Not all of it.

Not from the most important person who can tell it her mom.

It's very hard to talk about her, Jodie Parsons said, wiping away tears. It's very hard to see her pictures.

But Parsons wants to give meaning to her daughter's death, even though she expects some to condemn her for it, as they did when it happened.

Nobody can beat me up more than me at this point, she said. I live every day with what happened.

It was 100 degrees near Cleburne last July 11.

Four-year-old Lilly slipped out while her exhausted mom nursed and napped with a newborn fourth child.

Dad was at work.

A housekeeper watching Lilly and her big sister got busy with chores.

No one thought about the danger in the driveway.

She'd never gotten into the car by herself before, Parsons said, forcing the pain through her memory once more.

Parsons remembers searching the house and yard.

Neighbors joined in. Then deputies.

I looked everywhere, she said. I even looked in the car. I just didn't see her.

An hour-and-a-half later, a Johnson County deputy found Lilly's overheated body, partially covered in the back of the blistering hot SUV.

Authorities ruled the death an accident.

Everybody failed that day, Parsons said.

What few people knew at the time was the tragic irony of it.

Jodie Parsons is a pediatric nurse, a supervisor at Cook Children's Medical Center. She's a pro at keeping kids safe, someone who tries to stay one step ahead of every threat.

Good people make mistakes all the time, she said. We see it here every day.

In fact, Texas leads the nation in the number of children who die in hot cars, with seven last year and 13 the year before.

Nationwide, 527 children have died in hot cars since 1998.

Researchers began to see deaths increase as airbags became standard in the 90s, and experts advised parents to put children in the back seat. That's still considered the safest spot.

But back there, children are out of sight, and sometimes forgotten.

According to statistics compiled by San Francisco State University, that's how it happens for half the children who die inside hot cars.

I adored her, Jodie Parsons said. I still do.

She thinks Lilly went outside to put a drawing of herself in the mailbox. Her parents found it the day after she climbed into the unlocked SUV.

Their car is never unlocked now. And there are child locks on the house, too.

But Jodie Parsons hopes it's Lilly's death that stands as a reminder for all parents of young children as we head into another Texas summer.

It has to mean something, she said. It has to mean something.

Experts say parents of young children should put something in the front seat to remind them of their child in the back; perhaps a stuffed toy. Another tip is putting something needed in the back seat, like a phone or purse.


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