When their grandbaby died, Betty and Rufus Easter had but two plans, “We gave him a decent burial, and then to see that justice was done,” Betty told us.
A year after turning to NewsChannel 3, providing documents that helped reveal fatal flaws in the Virginia Beach child-welfare system, Baby Braxton’s grandparents reflected on his short life and the meaning of his death. And on the changes in child welfare that came at a terrible cost.
“Especially for us, our families. And the FitzPatricks. It was a high price.”
The FitzPatricks are Sarah and Ben FitzPatrick, Braxton’s first foster family. They took him in at birth, and loved him until he was moved months later to a second foster family. That second foster mother abused him to death, right under the noses of Beach child-welfare workers.
“There are good foster parents and there are definitely bad foster parents. And our experience with Braxton is the two extremes. We had the bad foster parent who is serving time for killing him. And we have the good foster parents that are like angels,” Betty said. “And I am thankful to God that Braxton had them for as long as he did.
Their daughter Kristen, a former drug addict, never had custody Braxton or any of her kids. At an age where they could retire, the Easters are raising three of Kristen’s children. They already had their hands full when Braxton was born and couldn’t take another baby. It’s a decision that haunts them still.
“I think at the time, we made the best decision that we could, based on what was going on in our lives at the time, but it`s one of the few things in my life that I would go back and change,” Betty commented.
“How much do you still wrestle with that, all these years later?” we asked.
“Daily,” she replied.
When Braxton lived with FitzPatricks, he was happy, always smiling, and growing into a cheerful little boy. That’s what the Easters want to remember, the time a family took care of him and loved him.
“What`s the one message you want to give to Sarah and Ben, the FitzPatrick family?” we asked the Easters.
“How much we love them and how much we appreciate what they did,” said Betty.
“Giving Braxton a few months of a life. Showing him love. They are the only ones who showed him love,” her husband added.
“Money couldn`t compensate them for what they`ve done for us. There is no amount of money that could compensate them for what they did for him and for us,” Betty told us.
“And they are still angels to you?” we asked.
“Yes. They always will be,” she answered.
The Easters and the FitzPatricks stood together and became Braxton’s voice for NewsChannel 3’s investigation. The interviews were raw and painful, bringing them back to perhaps the most heartbreaking time of their lives.
“But it was worth it. Because I feel like we got as much justice for him as we could,” said Betty.
It did come at too high a price. But for the Easters, they believe Braxton is the reason children in Beach foster care will be safer.