Why Mom Doesn't Blame Her Husband After He Accidentally Killed 14-Year-Old Son at Gun Range
On July 3, Elizabeth Brumby got the call that is every parent’s worst nightmare.
She was taking a short nap before dinner when she was woken up by the third-oldest of her seven children, 18-year-old Sam, who had the phone in his hand.
“He touched me and said, ‘Mom, David is on the phone and he won’t tell me why he’s calling,'” Elizabeth, 50, tells PEOPLE. “So I come out of this fog, sit up and take the phone from Sam. He said, ‘Stephen’s been shot.'”
“It was this sentence you couldn’t comprehend,” she says.
She tried to reassure herself it would be alright: It had to have been a graze, or something minor, she told herself.
“I can’t even remember the entire conversation but I said, ‘Is he going to be okay?’ Is he okay?’ and David said to me, ‘Mom, I can’t tell you that he’s going to live.'”
Earlier that day, Elizabeth’s husband, Clayton, 64, took three of their children to the High Noon Gun Range in Sarasota, Florida, where they took turns shooting Clayton’s .22 caliber-semi-automatic pistol.
After Clayton fired a round, the hot shell casing struck the wall, causing it to deflect and fall back into his shirt. When he quickly reached down to get it out, his gun, which was inadvertently pointed behind his back, went off.
Clayton, who first thought the bullet went straight up, quickly came to the horrific realization that the bullet had hit Stephen directly in the neck.
When Elizabeth heard what happened from David, she fell to the ground, prayed to God to save her “little boy” and tried to pack a bag of things she would need: She was hoping for a short hospital visit, after which she could bring Stephen home and nurse him back to health.
She frantically drove to the hospital. “I was so numb,” she recalls. “My fingers froze. I couldn’t even steer the car.”
When she arrived at the hospital she walked straight into a nightmare.
“The doctor came in and said ‘I don’t think your son is going to survive this,'” Elizabeth says. “I begged her, ‘Take me to my boy if he’s not going to make it. I’ve got to see my boy. He needs his last moments with his mom.'”
Elizabeth, who says that horrific day was an “out of body experience,” was able to spend the last few minutes of Stephen’s life by his side.
“They had cut his entire chest cavity open and the doctor was literally pumping his heart with his hand just to give me long enough to say goodbye to him,” she says. “We said, ‘Stevie, we love you so much.'”
Seeing him lifeless on the table was “inconceivable,” says Elizabeth.
“It was just not possible. I climbed up and laid down next to him on the table,” she says about the moment after he died and was in another hospital room. “Now you realize that these are the last minutes on earth with this kid so I wanted to be as close to him as I could. I just loved my boy. Everybody was around and everybody was loving my boy.”
For more on the Brumby family’s tragedy, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
Nothing To Forgive
Despite her grief, Elizabeth emphasizes that she harbors no anger toward her husband.
“Last Sunday, my son was shot by the man I love more than anybody in the whole word,” she says. “Since that moment, I can honestly say to the core of my being that I have not felt a nanosecond of anger towards him.”
She describes Clayton as the “most Godly, patient, loving and faithful person.”
He is someone who was just trying to have fun with his boy, she says.
“He was safe, he was careful, he did everything right,” she says. “You’re not prepared for something burning hot to fall down your shirt.”
On the day that PEOPLE exclusively sat down with Elizabeth and Clayton at their Sarasota, Florida, home, Elizabeth looked directly at him and assured him of one thing: “I said it that day and I’ll keep on saying it: I’m not going to forgive you because there is nothing to forgive,” she says.
“I’m not going to speak those words to him. It was a horrific accident and that’s that. I know he’s got enough to live with. I’m not going to add to that pile.”
Clayton takes full responsibility for what happened.
“I appreciate the graciousness of my wife but I know what I carry,” he says.
Elizabeth put a picture of Stephen as the background on her phone and has no intention of ever taking it off.
“I need to just look at his face,” she says. “It comforts me.”
Their closest friends have been at their house every day and many have stayed overnight. They were by her side as she sobbed for two solid days, and they haven’t left her side.
“I have precious friends who were just rubbing me, praying over me, loving me,” she says. “It takes courage to be with someone in that moment. To not be afraid to love at that moment when I was at the most broken moment of my life. I’m grateful that they didn’t let me grieve alone and they didn’t let me sob alone.”
While Elizabeth grieves, she still stays strong for her six other children – David, 24, Alexis, 23, Sam, 18, Christen, 12, Thomas, 11 and Jordan 9 – who are trying to process the loss of their brother.
“I’ve known the whole time that I’ve still got to love. My living children need me,” she says. “But I don t know how I’m going to do this without Stevie. He has left a chasm, Grand Canyon wide, in this family that can’t be filled, but I realize I must live. I must love my children I am still blessed to have.”