JOHNSON COUNTY, Tenn. - A local family grieves a tragic loss after they learn a four-year-old boy was killed and his father was injured when a tree fell inside a park during Thursday's severe storms in Richmond, Virginia.
News 5 learned that little boy has close family in Johnson and Carter Counties. We spoke with loved ones Friday as they tried to comprehend their loss.
"He was a sweetheart. He's precious," said Perriann Stanley described her great-nephew Shawn Wills.
Shawn's sweet smile will be forever missed by his family in Northeast Tennessee.
Great-aunts Perriann Stanley and Pamela Johnson told us they first found out on Facebook Thursday that something went horribly wrong with their sister's family in Richmond, Virginia. "We got really upset. We couldn't find out anything. We heard it was something about a storm," Stanley said.
Police said the four-year-old died when a tree uprooted at Maymont Park; falling on the boy and his father as officials were trying to evacuate for strong storms.
"It was devastating to our family. We have a very large family [and] a very close family, and he was just four-and-a-half years old," Stanley told us.
For this family, reliving the tragedy through the television deepens the wound in their hearts. "When I [saw] it on the news, on the national news, and local news, I thought, 'hey, this isn't just a little guy that got killed. This is our little boy.' You know, he's a big part of our family," Stanley said through tears.
Stanley said Shawn loved his cousins, animals, and the outdoors, but it's his gentle spirit she'll miss the most. "He just really had a sweet character about him; very sweet character," said Stanley.
We learned it's a strong faith in God and the love of their family that's getting them through the heartache and grief that lay ahead. "We're all a close family, and the Lord's blessed us, and he blessed us to have Shawn for four and a half years," said Pamela Johnson.
Family member told News 5 Shawn Wills' father, John Wills, suffered a broken arm and a concussion during the accident, and is undergoing surgery today.
We're told funeral arrangements have yet to be made, but their family will driving to Richmond over the weekend.