Community remembers slain children

The Rev. Ashley McCoy-Bruce, left, speaks at a community service held in honor of Carly and Sawyer Simpson at Dacusville Elementary School last Thursday.

The Rev. Ashley McCoy-Bruce, left, speaks at a community service held in honor of Carly and Sawyer Simpson at Dacusville Elementary School last Thursday.

‘We’re helping each other get through this’


Carly Ashelyn Simpson

Carly Ashelyn Simpson

By Nicole Daughhetee

Courier Staff

In the early morning hours of May 14, tragedy struck the Dacusville community when 7-year-old Carly Simpson and her brother Sawyer Simpson, 5, were found shot dead in their beds. Shot in the head, their father, Michael Simpson, 34, remains hospitalized in serious condition, while their mother, Anna Simpson, 35, faces murder charges in their deaths after her release from the hospital. Dacusville Elementary, the school both children attended, held a

Sawyer Russell Simpson

Sawyer Russell Simpson

memorial service in their honor last Thursday evening. At left and below are transcripts from the speakers at the event.

The Rev. Ashley McCoy-Bruce

We are here tonight because Dacusville, the Simpson and Brown families, Dacusville Elementary and Pickens County have suffered a tremendous loss that has altered our lives in ways we have yet to fully understand.

I’m here to unify us in our faith and to speak as a mother. My children are raised in Dacusville. My sons graduated from this school. My daughter is a fourth grader here. We have worked together because we saw a need to gather quickly to express our heartfelt sympathy for the deaths of two beloved children, our concerns for a critically wounded father and for the soul of a broken mother.

This is what a community does. We rally together in the worst of times, in the most difficult times, and this is the most difficult of times. We are so thankful for the first responders and the police, the EMS, and the firemen and firewomen — all of those who worked through this event to bring about closure and to start the process of healing and peace.

Let us join now in prayer:

O’ Holy and Glorious God, we wish we weren’t here. We wish that we didn’t have to gather here today. We wish that we didn’t have these holes in our hearts. We wish that this had never happened. But we are here, Lord, and we are gathered to raise our voices, we are gathered to be a light in the darkness, we are gathered to be Your people. Help us to hear what we need to hear today. Help the children here to begin to heal and receive Your blessing. And all the families and the people gathered here, that we would be united as we work together — instruments of Your peace in this community — in this state, in this country and in this world. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

What I am about to attempt is the impossible. I am about to offer you some measure of comfort today and for the coming days. However, I must say from the start that I can’t possibly give you all that you need in a few minutes and so I encourage each one of you to go to your place of worship or find a place of worship where you can continue to be reminded of the goodness and greatness of God and the hope and faith for tomorrow after you leave here today.

There are many scriptures that give us comfort in times of need, and I want to share three.

From 1 Peter 5:7 – “Give all your worries to God because God cares for you.”

Right now we have worries. We are worried. We are worried about why. Why did this happen? This horrible thing in our community. Why did Carly and Sawyer have to die? Why is their daddy struggling for his life?

We are missing these dear friends. Their sweet smiling faces that are no longer present in the hallways, on the playgrounds, in our classrooms or at our tables. I cannot give you a satisfying answer to the question of why. I can offer you hope that God cares. Tell your worries to Jesus, and He will care for you. In Christ we can take this tragedy and be triumphant. We can overcome evil with goodness.

We are worried about parents. What will happen now? Will something like this happen in our family? Children, you all need to know that you are safe and you are loved. All of these people gathered here — all of these people — love you. They are your community. They are here for you. And we are working and doing all within our power to help you with your sadness and to share your sadness and your pain and your loss. We love you, and most of all, you are safe in the arms of God.

Isaiah 41:10 says “Don’t fear because I am with you. Don’t be afraid because I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will surely help you. I will hold you in my hand.”

What has happened hurts us to the core. We are sad. We are mad. We feel guilty. We feel scared. And God is holding us right now and God will make us strong for each other. Jesus holds our hand in this grief, in this sadness, in this hurt. So don’t be afraid. And don’t be afraid to talk to God about how you feel.

Hebrews 4:16 says “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy and find ways to help in time of need.”

We are bold and we are confident in Dacusville. And we have a God great enough to overcome even this tragedy in our lives.

Now is the time to offer our prayers and to move beyond the why to the what next. The what next we have started tonight: to find the mercy and the grace and the hope to move forward to one another in this time of need. The children of this school are full of grace. They are full of wonder and they are full of love for each other. And if you have not seen that, then just take a look around, because here they are.

The staff at this school is amazing. And they are strong and they will help us walk through this darkness together. We can be bold together. Nothing can hold back our light. Not even wind blowing out our candles can take away the power and the strength we have in our faith and love in Jesus Christ.

So we will pray for everyone. We will pray for everyone involved in this great loss. And we will find our strength in a source beyond ourselves. In our Creator, Redeemer, in our Savior. We will move beyond our worries. We will be doing okay. We will overcome our fear. And we will help each other through the love and grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

 Reverend Ashley McCoy Bruce

A Dacusville Elementary student sits with his head down during a community service held in honor of Carly and Sawyer Simpson at the school last Thursday. (Emily Wright/Courier)

A Dacusville Elementary student sits with his head down during a community service held in honor of Carly and Sawyer Simpson at the school last Thursday. (Emily Wright/Courier)

DES Principal Dr. Michael Fleming

On behalf of the Dacusville Elementary family, I’d like to thank you not only for being here tonight, but also for the love and support you’ve show us over the last few days. We have indeed felt your love and especially your prayer.

In Psalm 34:18 we are assured that the Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit. We’re here tonight to pray for our precious Sawyer and Carly and for their families as they face the days ahead. We’re here to celebrate their all-too-short life with us here at Dacusville Elementary.

In Matthew 19:14, Jesus said “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” We take comfort tonight that Carly and Sawyer are claiming that promise and are safely in the arms of our Savior.

Finally, in John 14:1-3 we read “Let not your heart be troubled if you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Those words of comfort can help bring healing to all of us. And again we thank you for your prayers and ask that you continue to lift up our Dacusville family and the Simpson and Brown families in the days ahead.


1st grade teacher Nancy Zeigler

Carly was my student. We are here today because we need to be together. I wish there were a way to make all of this easier. I’ve been trying to do that in my classroom. I keep wanting to wake up from this nightmare. The kids that we lost were special because they were our kids. They were as special as every child here tonight and every child in this community. They were our children’s friends. For some of us, their parents have been our friends.

Carly was my student, and my students are my kids too. They are mine as much as they are yours.

Anna was one of my room parents. My students knew her to be loving and kind; she loved them and they loved her. It is incomprehensible to me and my students why Carly and Sawyer had to die this way.

When I trained to be a teacher, I had courses that taught me how to teach each subject, taught me how to deal with children with special needs, taught me how to manage my classroom; but there was never a course or a professor or a textbook that taught me how to help my students get over the death of a friend, let alone a friend who died this way.

So I’m figuring this out as I go along. Just like my students are. I take cues from them. And I’m learning along with them.

In room B166 we’re hugging a lot more often. We’re telling each other ‘I love you’ more often. And we’re helping each other get through this. We’ve laughed together and cried together this week.

The children have brought in flowers and trinkets to go at Carly’s seat. Her jacket is in her cubby, and her name plate is at her table, and for the rest of the year those things will stay there because Carly is still part of us.

We know we need to find a way to go on and to find a new kind of normal. We feel tremendous support from this community, and for that I thank you. Our new phrase is “I’m making it.” We’re not always OK in my classroom, but we’re making it.

We’ll miss Carly forever. By the grace of God it will get easier.

Thank you so much for the support you’ve shown us.


4K teachers Jama Freeman & Cindy Galloway

Sawyer was always very special to our classroom. He was always enthusiastic, adventurous and creative. Green was always his favorite color. He was always excited and always ready to learn. He always did his personal best, and always used his active listening at school. He was always the first to go to the Lego center. He always loved to build things. He always loved to run and play outside. He always loved his friends and his family. He always made us laugh. And, most of all, he always had the most beautiful smile that made everyone happy. We love you Sawyer and we will always miss you.

 Note: This was read by Dacusville Elementary School parent and event organizer Amy Skipper on behalf of Sawyer Simpson’s 4K teachers Jama Freeman and Cindy Galloway.

Nicole Daughhetee

Nicole Daughhetee

Objectivity — impossible in a case like this

Standing in the warm May sunshine — gathered among more than 100 other Pickens County women, men and children — outside of Dacusville Elementary School, has been the most surreal experience I’ve had as a reporter to date.

As I stood there, embraced by the sun and starting to sweat, I looked specifically at all the children who had congregated with their parents, and I couldn’t help but think of all the adventures in store for these little kids to enjoy once school ends for another year.

In my mind I could hear the tinkling music from neighborhood ice-cream trucks, picture delicate bubbles wafting by on a summer breeze, imagine the thrilling refreshment found hidden in a simple garden hose. I thought about Emerson and Ella splashing in our pool at home, sunlight streaking their hair golden and bronzing their flawless skin.

Like a punch to the gut, I was reminded why I was spending the evening at Dacusville Elementary — why I was surrounded by children who, instead of smiling and echoing laughter, remained still, silent, eyes rimmed with shiny wet tears.

I, we, a deeply shaken congregation of the Pickens County community stood to commemorate and memorialize a tragic loss — an act so brutal and horrific that people can only dazedly shake their heads and ask why.

Why Carly, a 7-year-old little girl, and her brother Sawyer, a 5-year-old little boy, had their lives cut so incredibly short, with all indications pointing to their mother as the perpetrator. Their mother, the woman who carried these precious children in her womb and brought them into this world so they would have the opportunity to grow and blossom into adulthood.

Why Carly and Sawyer will never again enjoy sharing giggles with their friends, making their teachers proud of their accomplishments or learning those lessons about life that are only reinforced through character-building experiences.

Why Carly and Sawyer will never again be able to give or receive hugs and kisses, feel freshly mowed grass under their bare feet or wait with the exciting anticipation to see what the tooth fairy left under their pillows or the surprises Santa tucked under a Christmas tree decorated with homemade ornaments bearing their fingerprints.

As I have worked on putting these pieces together for the newspaper, there have been many occasions where I have had to get up and walk away from my computer — where I have had to find some mundane task to erase all these terrible thoughts and words from my mind before returning to write more.

For many of us, the feelings of sadness and loss commingle with those of extreme anger and frustration. We want to know why. How. And we want someone to blame. We have someone to blame, although she is legally innocent until proven guilty: the mother who confessed to taking Carly and Sawyer from the lives of those who loved them.

We become angry with God and ask how a being so gracious and merciful, so benevolent and loving could sit high up in the heavens and allow something so unspeakable to happen here, in our beautiful piece of the world.

Impossible a feat as it might seem, we all need to be reminded that God gave all of us the freedom to act and behave according to our own wills. And while I firmly believe that actions must have consequences and there are punishments appropriate for the nature of such horrific crimes, I also believe that as difficult as it is to find forgiveness in my own heart, I am not in a position to sit in judgment of another person. That is the Lord’s burden alone.

I’ve always been an avid news watcher and reader. Over the years there have been cases equally as horrible as the murder of Carly and Sawyer, but it is another matter entirely when it happens in a place we call home — a place nestled away from the crime of major metropolitan cities and the harsh ugliness of violence that simply does not exist in Pickens County.

Yet it does. It did. And it has left a scar on this community that, while it might heal, will never truly disappear.

While I wish I could weave a web of words that would wrap people in comfort, heal broken hearts and bring peace to restless minds, all I can offer is a sliver of hope and perhaps some encouragement based on a faith, that although it can sometimes be jarred, is planted firmly in the unbreakable foundation of God.

Everything happens for a reason; however it is not always ours to understand. Carly and Sawyer were only with us for a brief period of time — too short a time. And while I never knew them personally, as a mom, as a person who loves her own children beyond measure, I can fully appreciate all the joy they brought to everyone who knew them.

It is with sincere sympathy that I offer my condolences to every person experiencing the ache of this terrible loss, and it is my prayer that while we might never understand the hows and whys, that God will heal our wounds in the way only He can, and that we will have the peace, strength and courage we need to move forward in forgiveness, while never forgetting the precious treasures lost in the deaths of two beautifully innocent children.