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Dakota’s Story

By LeAnn Dilbeck

A two-vehicle accident in March 2012 found an entire community in mourning over the loss of two but later found itself in celebration over the astounding recovery of a two-year old that beat all the odds. The name Paylon is one that is very familiar to most in the community. A community grasping to cope with such a tragedy clung to her amazing story of healing as a symbol of hope.

Much has been written and published on the family of one of the vehicles but none has been on the family of the second vehicle, who also endured a loss. Twelve-year old Dakota Atkinson was also killed that fateful day and his family is now speaking out for the first time because they want to share their story of spiritual and emotional healing and to remember the boy who, by all accounts, “was a ball of sunshine…always smiling.”

Dakota’s father, Herbie Atkinson, was driving their 1997 GMC Yukon, with Dakota and his other two sons, Brandon (17 at the time) and Kameron (14 at the time). The family was on their way to church where Herbie volunteered as a church van driver.

Herbie is grateful that he only remembers bits and pieces of the accident. The one that he says he remembers clearly and will never forget is holding his lifeless son waiting on the paramedics and crying out his name and trying to get his eyes to open. He said he is burdened for the weight his son Kameron carries with him daily, remembering every single detail of the accident and the events that followed.

Herbie said once they were at ER, staff explained that Dakota had sustained major brain and chest trauma. He said they worked diligently to stabilize him as they waited for Angel One from Arkansas Children’s Hospital to come for him.

“The doctors told us they couldn’t promise he’d be the same,” said father Herbie. “When they left the room, I began praying to God and asking Him to give Dakota peace…20 minutes later he was gone.” As the tears rolled down his face, the pain of a grieving father is still very evident. “We thought we were waiting on the angels from Little Rock but the cool part of it was…he got to ride with the best angels there are.”

Herbie believes losing Dakota was an answer to his prayer requesting peace, “He wouldn’t have been Dakota.”

He and his family remember Dakota as the “never being able to stay still,” “always doing something,” “always wanted to help,” “never giving up on anything,” and “always smiling.” Herbie said, “He was just a little ball of sunshine…could make everybody laugh real easy.”

Herbie said the hardest thing was learning how to live without him, “to get up and go on is a hard thing. If you’ve never lost a child, you don’t know how hard.” And as hard as it is, Herbie finds comfort in knowing that Dakota is in a much better place with no physical or emotional pain. “As much as I miss him, I wouldn’t want him back here. He’s in a place where he knows no pain…only joy. And I know I have someone up there waiting on me.”

He said interestingly, John 3:16 was always Dakota’s favorite verse and said now, it has a profound new meaning to him, after losing a son. He said it’s hard to understand the depth of the love it took for God to sacrifice his own Son. He said, like all parents, if he’d had any idea, he wouldn’t have left the house that and yet, God knew the day His Son would be crucified and knowingly made that sacrifice for His love for mankind.

He relives the moments that led up to that day, the fact that Dakota wanted to take something back in the house before they left and Herbie didn’t permit him, “If I had, we wouldn’t have been there at that precise moment.”

Herbie said that he knows that when we ask the Lord to move mountains, if He moves it – “what’s the good? You got to go through the valley and climb back to up build strength. I want people to thank God for the mountain and the valleys…more importantly for the strength He gives to climb that mountain.”

He said Paylon’s recovery has helped his family deal with their pain. He said he hasn’t had the opportunity to spend time with her and hopes to someday be able to.

He said the loss of Dakota has forever changed him and what he hopes people will take away from his family’s story is the to thank the Lord daily for your family, “death isn’t prejudice. Don’t waste time being mad about petty differences. Be careful with your last words. Take time to call and say ‘I love you.’ Hold God’s hand and He can bring you through anything.”

Dakota left behind his father, Herbie, mother Christal Ford, sister LaTisha and her two sons with whom he adored, brothers Brandon and Kameron. They anxiously await the day they are reunited with him.