After son's death, family tries to educate others about dangers of window-blind cords
Dan Bates / The Herald
McKenna O'Bryant, 10, peers from a door window in her home where her younger brother, Gavin, who was 5, was strangled by a cord on the window blinds. The blinds are no longer there, and McKenna has taken it upon herself to educate others about the danger.
Gavin O'Bryant was 5 when he died.
Cyrus and Reshelle O'Bryant found the perfect spot in a quiet, friendly Mill Creek neighborhood, on a long meandering cul de sac, away from traffic.
The back yard was protected by a tall, sturdy wooden fence and the parents taught their children about the dangers of light sockets and stairs. It never occurred to them to worry about corded window blinds.
On April 8, 2011, Gavin O'Bryant was home with his sisters while his parents ran a quick errand to buy a dog bowl. McKenna, 9, read and rested on a couch after soccer camp. Mariah, 15, busied herself washing dishes.
Gavin, who had just turned 5, was a handsome boy with long dark lashes. That sunny afternoon he beat a path back and forth between the back yard and the house through the home's French doors.
A blind cord tangled around his neck, strangling him. Gavin was essentially gone by the time his sisters found him minutes later.
More than 200 children have died across the country from window covering strangulations during the past two decades, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
A parent advocacy group has documented 495 deaths and injuries since 1982. Such deaths most often occur inside the home and involve children 1 to 3 years old, who can't cry out for help with their airways closed.
The O'Bryants know they will always grieve for their son.
"We may smile but there is a lot of pain behind our smiles," Reshelle O'Bryant said. The family wants to spare others from enduring the anguish they've felt.
They try to spread the word about the dangers to children and adults through schools, social media and belong to a national group seeking to hold manufacturers of window blinds responsible for making their cords safer.
McKenna, a fourth-grade student at Mill Creek Elementary School, takes every opportunity she can find to explain the dangers of window blind cords. She urges others to steer clear of looped cords.
She spoke with her principal and to an Everett School District maintenance director.
Her class took her message into other classrooms across the campus.
McKenna also addressed the faculty at Cedar Wood Elementary School and the school's PTA.
McKenna said she sees her public speaking as "a chance to save lives."
She remembers Gavin as an active, athletic boy who loved superheroes and dancing. She laughs when she describes him as a ladies man, endearing himself with girls of all ages, even if it meant letting them put makeup on his face and pink nail polish on his fingers and toes.
Mariah started a Facebook page in Gavin's memory. It is a place where family often writes to him, an outlet for their sorrow and a way to reach out to others.
Cyrus O'Bryant, a Bothell police detective, said Gavin had a gentle heart and was "an amazing soul" smart beyond his years. He and Reshelle advocate for safer standards with Parents for Window Blind Safety.
"Now we belong to this terrible club we never would have wanted to belong to," Reshelle O'Bryant said.
The group pushes for tighter industry standards to eliminate risks from window blinds and recommends products it deems safe. On one of its pages are the faces of dozens of children who died or were injured. Gavin is one of them.
Linda Kaiser, a mother from Missouri, started the organization after her 1-year-old daughter, Cheyenne, strangled in her crib in 2002.
"Since her death, over 100 kids have died," she said. "It's not just about my daughter, it's about the other kids who died and other kids who will continue to die."
Kaiser has offered support to the O'Bryants and is heartened by McKenna's willingness to get the message out.
"I'm so proud of McKenna for getting out there and really trying to educate people about the dangers of cords," she said.
Images of Gavin are plentiful throughout the family's home.
Reshelle continues to relive the day in her mind.
In sharing her painful memories in a letter to Gavin on Facebook, she hopes others will examine the window blind cords in their homes.
She describes the emergency call her husband received from paramedics. Her daughters crying hysterically on the front porch as paramedics worked on Gavin. The long rush-hour drive in the ambulance to the Everett hospital. Her husband screaming Gavin's name, somehow hoping he would hear him and wake up.
She sees the chaplain introducing herself. The doctor breaking the news that Gavin had died. She hears herself and Cyrus scream and fall to their knees.
She sees them heartbroken, alone, stroking his hair, kissing his cheeks, holding his hands.
A full police escort, arranged quickly by family friends, taking their boy's body to the medical examiner's office.
"You went in, we stayed behind," she wrote. "It was so final. I was so empty."
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; email@example.com.
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