Little Garrett’s big blue eyes peek out from the fur that swaddles him beneath a darkened sky.
A porchlight casts a glow on his face, highlighting the excitement expressed in his baby blues. He sees a bowl of candy and blurts “Trick or Treat,” in language that only a Mother could really understand from a 1-year-old learning to talk.
It’s Halloween 2002, a night that Casey Atkins will never forget.
“That’s one of my favorite memories of Garrett,” Atkins said. “I taught him to say ‘Trick or Treat,’ and he was trying to say ‘Happy Halloween.’
“He really got into going door to door and getting candy. He wanted to eat it all right there.”
The little boy dressed in the lion costume would never live to see another Halloween. Garrett Bailey Rice, 1, died just days later from a lethal dose of oxycodone. Atkins shared the Halloween memory and others in hopes of bringing a human face to a tragedy that has been shrouded with a criminal investigation and a civil lawsuit.
“I see the death of my son being used for all the wrong reasons,” Atkins said. “The innocent life that he had has been lost through all of this.
“I want people to know about Garrett and what kind of boy he was.”
Atkins said Garrett brought much joy into the lives of all who knew him. She knew the instant she gave birth to him on Oct. 25 that her son was something special.
“Hearing him cry for the first time was the best part of it all,” she said. “I can’t really explain what that was like.”
Every milestone proved to be special for Atkins. She remembers her son’s first Christmas and how he would just stare at the twinkling lights. She remembers his first steps at her mother’s house in Oklahoma City.
“He let go of the desk and took four steps,” Atkins said. “This was the first child and first steps. It was just amazing to see that.”
All of Garrett’s firsts brought excitement to the family, but it was his personality and everyday actions that endeared him to everyone. Atkins said Garrett danced right into her heart.
“He loved to dance,” Atkins said. “But it wasn’t really dancing. It was more of a head bang. It was so fun to watch him.”
He was not only known for his dancing. He loved his pacifier.
“His pacifier was his best friend,” Atkins said. “He’d sit in the living room and play for hours with his pacifier from the hospital instead of hundreds of dollars of toys he had.”
There was a very loving side to Garrett. He was a daddy’s boy and was inseperable from his father, Kenneth Rice. He loved people in general.
“He was so friendly,” Atkins said. “He gave hugs and kisses to everyone.
“He also had eyes that would make you melt and a smile as big as the Grand Canyon. He could light up a room.”
Garrett’s hugs and kisses stopped Nov. 4, 2002, the day Garrett died while under a babysitter’s supervision. Atkins still grieves for her son.
“It ripped my heart out when he died,” she said. “There’s no way to explain it. I would hope no mother would ever have to go through this.
“Every day I think about him. I’ll be sitting with my boys in the living room and hear his voice.”
Atkins gave birth to another son a month after Garrett’s death and then another two and a half weeks ago. Her oldest, Chance, brought back a flood of memories because he looked like his deceased brother.
“That was hard,” Atkins said. “It didn’t make it any easier that he looked like (Garrett). My life was a living hell and that’s the way it’s been for the last three years.
“I haven’t dealt with his death, because it scares me to have to deal with it.”
Atkins said she Garrett’s death has made her very protective of her two sons.
“I don’t leave them with anyone I don’t know anything about,” she said. “I don’t trust anyone anymore.”
Atkins wants justice in the case, but said that won’t change the fact that her son is dead. She said her heart has a permanent hole in it.
“The only thing that could make it better is to go back and change what happened,” Atkins said.
She said Garrett taught her a lot about life.
“You don’t take anything for granted,” she said. “You live every day like it’s your last.
“That boy was the light of my world.”
A wrongful lawsuit was filed last month against babysitter Sharon Rowley and property owners Wilbur Hancock and Karen Clerico. Kenneth Rice and his parents Chris Jason Rice and Christina June Rice are suing for Garrett’s lifetime earnings, medical, hospital and funeral expenses. Garrett died from a lethal dose of oxycodone, a narcotic found in prescription pain medication.
The case is still under investigation by the Harper County District Attorney’s office.