Everette, 4, and Pierce, 5, (background) play in the backyard at their grandparent's house in Hyrum on Thursday. Everette continues to recover from a severe brain injury inflicted by his stepfather last year. (Jennifer Meyers/Herald Journal)
Two little boys — brothers — play in the sandbox on a perfect summer day, bickering over who had the toy truck first.
A day like this is a far cry from the day last summer when Everette, the youngest, lay prostrate in a bed at Primary Children’s Medical Center.
The 3-year-old known as Evvie had a fractured skull, his brain was severely injured, and the biggest unknown at that moment was whether he would survive his injuries.
His grandparents, Brad and Sonja Schaefermeyer of Hyrum, took turns staying with him. His mom was not allowed to be there. His stepfather was under investigation for causing the injuries to the boy, who was just 3 years old at the time.
Today, Evvie’s stepdad is in prison for child abuse, and his mom is in jail for not protecting her child. But things are looking up for him and his brother.
The Schaefermeyers say they are a month away from legally adopting their grandsons, with their daughter’s blessing.
Sonja said she saw the signs of abuse appear with both of the boys soon after her oldest daughter, Angie, now 24, started dating Brandon Nelson in January 2011, despite not actually seeing Nelson harm the boys.
“We never, ever saw him be anything but loving to the boys,” Brad said.
Still, the signs were there, they say.
The Schaefermeyers tried to intervene, but as grandparents, they found their options were limited. However, when Evvie was taken to Primary Children’s, they were contacted immediately because they had been involved from the start.
And when the Department of Children and Family Services decided to remove the children from Angie’s care, the Schaefermeyers said it was a “no-brainer.”
“No way could we let DCFS take them and put them in foster care,” Sonja said. “They’re our boys; they are our world.”
Evvie was in the hospital for a month, and since then, it has been a whirlwind of doctor visits, counseling and physical therapy.
When Brandon Nelson was sentenced in January to up to 30 years in prison, Evvie was still limping. Doctors thought he might have lost the vision in one eye.
Now the limp is gone, and he does have vision in both his eyes, although there is still some residual effects of a brain injury affecting his eyesight.
Doctors told them once a brain injury has been inflicted, there will always be a brain injury and a lot of unknowns.
“We went in knowing full well that he would have these challenges his whole life,” Brad said.
It has been a challenge for the entire family, but one that was carried by everyone with the love and support of family and friends.
While Evvie was in the hospital, Sonja said members of their church brought meals for the family every night and helped shuttle her two youngest children to school activities.
“We remember,” she said. “We remember, and we appreciate the help.”
As Brad and Sonja begin to parent these two small boys, they are mindful of the relationship with their daughter. They were in the courtroom last week when she was sentenced to spend one month in jail for failing to protect her children from their abuser.
“It was devastating, in a way,” Sonja said. “We are so incredibly hopeful she can change.”
During the last year, it has been a tender balance for the Schaefermeyers to care for both Angie and their grandsons.
“She will always be our daughter, and there is nothing she can do that will change that,” Brad said.
While Evvie was in the hospital, Sonja said Angie was devastated. As much as they wanted to provide her comfort, they were not allowed to give her any details about Evvie’s condition during the investigation.
Angie will be released from jail around the time the adoption is final, and she will still be able to be a part of the boys’ lives. The Schaefermeyers are hopeful the boys now realize they have a home where they are safe.
“We are still a family, and we are still together,” said Sonja.