Strangers are sending pictures of rainbows to a 9-year-old struggling with the deaths of his parents

By Jason Duaine Hahn
August 01, 2017 05:14 PM

When Crystal Skawinski took to social media to ask for pictures of rainbows for her nephew who has autism after he lost both of his parents, she hoped to receive a few dozen to put into a scrapbook. Instead, the family has received thousands of pictures from people all over the world who hope they can bring some cheer to a young boy in the aftermath of a tragedy.

Skawinski gained custody of her nephew, 9-year-old Robbie Ecuyer, after his parents died just 23 days apart from each other. Ecuyer’s mother, Shelly Ecuyer, passed away on May 2 from gastroparesis and cystic fibrosis, and his father, Robert Ecuyer, died from a battle with addiction on May 24.

“He misses his mom and dad and he doesn’t always comprehend that they’re not going to come back,” Skawinski, 37, tells PEOPLE. “He just thinks his mom is in the hospital and his dad is at work—counselors told me that that is to be expected with autism.”

Ecuyer is a big fan of rainbows, and after his parents passed, rainbows frequently appeared in the sky near Skawinski’s home in Cohoes, New York. But on a day when there was only a slight drizzle coming from the skies, Ecuyer looked for a rainbow, and there was none to be found. “I can’t tell you what Robbie felt not seeing a rainbow, but what I assume he felt was that his parents weren’t there,” Skawinski says. “They didn’t come that day.”

That’s when Skawinski decided to bring the rainbows to Ecuyer. She posted on her Facebook page to ask friends to send in pictures of any colorful rainbows they may have:

But Ecuyer’s story resonated with far more people than Skawinski ever expected. Soon, thousands of people were sending in pictures of rainbows. They came from all over the world, from China, Paris, Niagara Falls, to Austrailia, all to bring happiness to the young boy who had his life transformed in a matter of weeks.

“The rainbows haven’t only lifted Robbie spirits, they lift all of our spirits,” Skawinski says. “There’s a lot of support out there that I didn’t know I had.”

Skawinski plans to put the pictures of the rainbows in a slideshow for Ecuyer to enjoy (a scrapbook won’t be able to hold the thousands they has received so far). She also recently started a GoFundMe page to raise money for a trip to Disney World so Ecuyer can meet one of his favorite characters: Dora the Explorer.

Credit: Crystal Skawinski

“Robbie hasn’t ever done anything due to my sister being in the hospital, that’s where they spent all their time,” she says. “Robbie didn’t get to experience fun things in his nine years, so we want him to go places and learn new things.”

Skawinski, herself, is learning new things as well. Ecuyer’s autism can show itself in a variety of ways, and she is continually finding out about his likes and dislikes, such as the limited things that Ecuyer likes to eat. “No one can tell me how Robbie is going to react to something because no one knows, ” she says. “The two people that would have known aren’t here to tell me what to do.”

But she hopes that she can bring some joy into his life, now, and for years to come.

“I tell him all the time about all this love that is surrounding him right now,” she says. “I want him to flourish, I want him to grow.”