A family in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, who suffered an unimaginable tragedy is crediting community support with helping them through their grief.
In March 2021, three teenage brothers were riding in an SUV that one of their friends was driving when it went off the road, crashed and burst into flames.
The fiery crash killed 18-year-old Jaquan Bundy and his 19-year-old brother Javontae Bundy.
"I would never in a million years think I would lose two of my boys. I tell everyone to hug your children every day. Tell 'em you love them because you just never know," their mother Toleda Johnson said.
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Jalontae Bundy, Javontae's twin, was badly injured in the crash, with burns over half his body and broken bones.
"This is a pain that no mother wants to feel. I didn’t know that Jalontae was going to make it. I traveled to Richmond every day, praying on my way there that every day would get better and better," Johnson said.
Johnson said she wasn't prepared to see Jalontae's injuries when she first stepped into his room at the The Evans-Haynes Burn Center at the VCU Medical Center the day after the crash.
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"I just ran out. I ran out the room. I said, 'That’s not my son, that’s not my son,'" she said.
Jalontae said he doesn’t remember the crash.
"We were driving down the road and - flash - I’m in the hospital bed with tubes down my throat and I'm just confused," he said.
He was stunned to see how gravely he was burned.
"My whole chest was open. My whole back was open. They’d keep taking skin off my legs to put up top. It was back and forth," Jalontae said.
Jalontae has had 100 surgeries. For months, he couldn’t even talk because he needed a trach tube to keep him alive.
His mom remembered a breakthrough day when she was driving to Richmond and he called her cellphone.
"I said, 'Hello,' and he said, 'Mom.' I said, 'Jalontae?!' and just pulled over on 95 and I cried and cried and thanked God that he gave Jalontae the strength to talk," Johnson said.
Jalontae’s strength — to overcome the pain, to stay focused on recovery — came from his brothers, he said.
"What probably kept me going the most was knowing I had my brothers behind me. If I didn’t want to get up, I felt like they’d push me out of bed. That’s what kept me going, for real," he said.
Another thing that kept Jalontae going: His desire to get home to see his 12-year-old twin sisters.
Nine months after the crash, Jalontae got to go home.
Johnson said community support continues to boost their spirits through their grief. Strangers still approach her to say, "We’re praying for you," she said.
"The community outpouring of support, the love that was shown to me and my family, and that’s what keeps me going every day," Johnson said.
The young man who was driving the SUV, Dylan Abernathy, pleaded guilty last week to aggravated manslaughter and other charges. He’ll be sentenced in December.