By Nikki Blankenship
Evan Bradley, East student who died at 17, has been gone two years, but for his mother Julie Bradley, teacher’s aide for Portsmouth Elementary School, healing is done through his memory rather than through forgetting him.
Julie has two twin 10-year-old boys, a 7-month-old son and custody of a 2-year-old girl. With all the kids in the house, it is far from quiet. However, a busy house of young kids is new for this mourning mother.
Julie explained that for most of Evan’s life, he was an only child.
“We have a small family. Evan was the only grandchild for eight years,” the mother stated. “I wouldn’t say he was spoiled. He just had everyone’s attention. He was our limelight.”
At the age of 7, things started to change for Evan. His mother and father divorced just before he gained several new siblings. His father also struggled with mental illness, which Julie believes may have impacted her son.
“He saw a lot of confusing things and started developing some issues later on,” Julie said.
It was a difficult time of adjustment. Evan felt like he was no longer the center of attention. As infants, the new sibling required much more attention and effort. The young boy dealing with the separation of his parents, started to feel like he was less important than his baby brothers.
Julie explained that Evan was always special. She would often take him out for fast food or a milkshake without taking her other children. It gave her time to bond with her oldest son while also doing something special that was just for him.
“He loved food,” Julie remembered.
As a teenager, Evan had gotten more defiant, as most teens do. Junior year, however, was very exciting. Evan had a girlfriend that his mother said he cared about greatly. The two would even coordinate their clothing for school. Evan and his girlfriend were like other teens their age, looking forward to prom, talking about what they would wear and enjoying their teenage years with their friends. Evan found himself in a bit of trouble, but never failed to turn to his mom for support.
Looking back, Julie remembers how close she and her son were.
“It’s not that Evan and I had a friendship over a mom and son relationship, but we did have a friendship,” she smiled to remember. “He didn’t share his emotions much, but he would love if I would sit down and lean on him when he got older.”
Julie continued by explaining that Evan would ask her if she had to be so close as she cuddled next to him, but she knew he enjoyed his mother-son time.
“He was really sweet inside. He just didn’t put it all out there,” the mom said.
Still, life was not as Evan would have planned.
“I honestly feel like Evan didn’t have the family he wanted,” Julie commented.
Once, when Evan was 16, he told his mom that he wanted a family with both his mom and dad in the household. Though he joked that he also wished his dad was rich, Julie has always felt like Evan suffered when she and her ex-husband divorced.
Despite the pain Evan may have felt, he was always the person who brightened up the lives of those around him. He was handsome and charming. People were drawn to him. Remembering her son, Julie instantly thinks of Evan’s smile.
“His smile was so pretty with his two sharp teeth,” she giggled.
Appearance was important to Evan. He liked to look nice and was always clean and meticulous.
“That doesn’t mean he didn’t leave dirty dishes around for me to pick up,” Julie said with a smile on her lips but tears in her eyes.
Evan always had clean hands, liked his clothes to look nice and loved shoes. Julie explained that her son particularly favored Jordan shoes, which he would put back into the box after wearing.
“He didn’t like anyone to touch them. No one messed with Evan’s stuff, and we still don’t,” Julie confirmed.
The last time Julie saw her son, it was unexpected. She was leaving some money for him, not expecting him to be home until after she had left for work.
“He ran up to me and squeezed me,” Julie said. “He hugged me so tight. Normally, it was like he was just hugging me because I wanted to hug him.”
Then, on March 27, 2015, Evan was killed in a car accident on Ohio 335 near Minford while traveling with friends.
“They were planning on visiting a place that was said to be haunted way out in Minford. No one knew what would soon happen,” Julie commented.
There were four other young people in the car. Both Evan and the female driver died in the accident. Another passenger was thrown from the car. With leg injuries, the young man pulled himself back to the car and tried to wake Evan, but he was already gone. The autopsy showed that Evan died quickly. The accident happened at 10:21 p.m., but Julie says no effort was made to contact her. Another boy involved in the accident had called some close friends who had contacted Julie.
“Hours later, I just walked in the hospital,” Julie explained.
When she arrived the hospital, Julie found out that Evan was already at the morgue. She didn’t even get to identify the body. The next time she saw her son, he was in a casket.
The silly young man with the beautiful smile was no longer smiling. Julie’s limelight had gone.
Following Evan’s death, Julie saw for the first time how important he was to those around me. Services were held at Brant Funeral Home in Sciotoville, where over 500 people showed up for the viewing. Since his death, Julie says so many of his friends have shared stories of how he touched their lives, times he made them smile and when he took up for them during a difficult time. These young kids have even memorialized him by his nickname “King Eazy,” which is randomly painted on structures around town.
“It was comforting to me to know that so many people cared about him,” Julie said.
Both Julie and her mother continue to keep Evan’s memory alive by remembering him in family celebrations. Each year for his birthday and for holidays, the family gathers at his grave site and at the scene of the accident to decorate both.
“He’s my son. I’m always going to love him,” Julie explained. “I have to devote time to him.”
Most recently, friends and family gathered with pizza and balloons to remember Evan on the two year anniversary of his death.
“Friends leave things from time to time. He was loved by many, and I’m so grateful for that!,” the grief stricken mother commented. “Very importantly, I am so thankful for the many people who reached out and continue to honor his memory. It makes all the difference with me being able to go on.”
Julie continues to stay in contact with her son’s friends.
“A lot of them didn’t know how to deal with it,” she said. “I’m the closest thing they have to him, and they are the closest thing I have.”
Sharing stories always seems to bring a comfort. Still, Julie says that it never seems to heal fully.
“I learned to not let it consume me. That is all. It doesn’t get better,” she stated.
She will always hold on to the young man that was “King Eazy” to his friends and the king of his mother’s heart.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1930.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1930.