Robert Brown, 50, took his late son's girlfriend, Kaylee Suders, to her senior prom after his son, Carter, died in an April car accident

By Char Adams
May 23, 2018 11:52 AM
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Kaylee Suders, of Greencastle, Pennsylvania, was devastated when she learned that her boyfriend, Carter Brown, had died while on his way home from college to surprise her on April 15. Brown, 18, fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into another vehicle before colliding head-on with a second car.

“I hadn’t heard from him a few hours and then… my mom told me. I was devastated. That’s my best friend,” Suders tells PEOPLE. “I felt like my world was taken from me.”

Suders spent the following weeks staying with Carter’s parents. Carter’s father, Robert, says he watched Suders struggling to cope with his son’s death. So, the 50-year-old father of four came up with an idea.

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Kaylee Suders (left) and Robert Brown
| Credit: Courtesy Kaylee Suders and Robert Brown

He decided to ask Suders to her senior prom at James Buchanan High School in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.

“My son would’ve wanted her to go,” the grieving father tells PEOPLE of Suders. “So I said, ‘I know Carter’s not here to take you, but maybe I could be the next best thing.’ She got teary-eyed and gave me a big hug.”

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Credit: Courtesy Kaylee Suders and Robert Brown

Robert, a beloved former coach at the school, asked the principal for permission to attend the prom. He says that school officials were on board, as they knew about Carter’s death and have known Robert for years.

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Kaylee Suders (right) with photo of boyfriend Carter Brown
| Credit: Courtesy Kaylee Suders and Robert Brown

Until then, Suders had no plans to attend the event. But after Robert’s gesture, she began preparing, picking a gown and planning her hair ‘do. She even went with Robert to pick out his tuxedo.

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On May 19, Suders and Robert posed for sweet (and silly) photos before heading to the prom.

“We were posing and doing crazy stuff! It was a really special time,” he gushes. Suders adds: “It was so cool!”

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Carter Brown (left) and Kaylee Suders at Suders’ junior prom in 2017
| Credit: Courtesy Kaylee Suders and Robert Brown

Both danced at the prom and Robert says he felt “welcomed by all,” despite some initial nervousness — “I thought, this is kind of crazy! I’m 50 years old,” he adds.

Now, both Suders and Robert say they’ll cherish their prom photos, along with many other memories of Carter.

“Getting involved with prom has helped. Seeing Kaylee so happy has helped. It’s kept our minds busy,” Robert says. “Carter was such an amazing young man. He cared about everyone. It’s almost like he’s still touching people from heaven.”