Tommy and Misty Iles of Hineston have a story they never wanted to tell, but believe they must so they might help others. Their faith in God is what is getting them through a time of unimaginable grief. On June 21st, the young couple lost their 2-year-old son, Hunter Jack, in a tragic accident. “God is carrying me through this time. We are standing in faith,” Tommy says when people ask him how they are coping. Both Tommy and Misty say God has blessed them with an inner peace that lets them focus on the beauty of their son’s short life, rather than his death.
Seated at a coffee shop, tears of joy mingle with tears of sorrow in Misty’s blue eyes as she starts sharing how Hunter touched the lives of everyone he met. “From the very beginning, Hunter was a miracle. Our first son, Trey, who is 4, was born December 22, 2005. But because of a thyroid condition I developed, my doctor said it would be hard or next to impossible to get pregnant again,” Misty relates. At church, she asked for special prayer to get pregnant again, and Misty says God answered their prayer. “It was the best pregnancy. I was not sick at all. Hunter was born December 11, 2007. He had lots of black curly hair. He was a gorgeous baby.” With his sweet temperament, Hunter quickly became the “church baby” everyone loved to cuddle.
Misty and Tommy had met during high school at a church youth service. They married March 18, 2005. After working with the children’s ministry, the two became youth leaders for Hicks United Pentecostal Church. For three years, they pastored the “Shama” youth group at the church. The youth group and their church family would often laugh at the antics of Trey and Hunter. “Our two sons were super close. Trey was the protective older brother,” Misty says with a catch in her breath, and adds, “Trey has told us that Hunter is in Heaven with Jesus and that he is laughing.”
Parents expect to outlive their children, but when the unexpected happens, they often search for unexplainable answers. “As a youth leader, I use to tell the kids I will serve God through anything. I would say, ‘When you can’t stand, stand some more.’ When we lost Hunter, it would have been so easy to turn my back on God. But I’m still standing for Jesus. I know God can raise the dead and heal the sick. But God kept him,” Tommy says, adding that his relationship with God is “unshakable.”
After three years of serving as youth pastors at Hicks, Tommy says he felt like God was leading them in a new direction of ministry. The Iles family joined the Sanctuary of Praise church in Pineville. Tommy and Misty recently started helping with the youth service and Misty even helped with the youth music service. “There was no shadow of doubt that God placed us at Sanctuary of Praise. They didn’t really need us, but we’d need them,” Misty says, adding that her whole family was introduced to their new congregation the Sunday before the accident.
As a young mother, Misty says she “baby-proofed” their home inside and out. She hopes by sharing what happened, it could spread the message of how fragile life is, and that young children should always be closely supervised. This past April, while Tommy was at work and Misty was at the doctor’s with their two sons, their mobile home burned to the ground. “We lost everything in that fire, but it was okay because we still had our family,” Misty recalls. They moved into a rent house in Hineston. There was such an outpouring from their church and community of clothes and items, that Misty said they needed to sort through things and planned to have a garage sale. On June 21st, Misty’s sister, Tara, came over to help her go through the items. Her four children, a 4-year-old niece, and Trey and Hunter were playing outside on the hot day in a wading pool in the fenced backyard. Misty says around 3:00pm, she checked on all the kids. Then for the next 15 minutes, she and her sister were bagging clothes. Sometime during those 15 minutes, Misty’s niece opened her car door to get her shoes out of the car. The car door was left open, and Hunter got into the car presumably to retrieve his blanket. It is not known how the car door was shut. About 3:15pm, Tara was gathering up her four children to leave, when they discovered Hunter was missing.
“I knew something was very wrong. I saw Hunter lying on his back on the front passenger side. I started screaming. I couldn’t open the door,” Misty admits. Her sister opened the door, picked up the toddler and ran to the pool, hoping to cool him off with the water. Misty frantically called 911, and says the first-responders were at her house within three minutes. Paramedics arrived as well as a helicopter medical team to transport the toddler. But due to difficulties with the helicopter’s engine, Hunter was not able to be flown to the hospital and was transported by the ambulance. Misty remembers she kissed Hunter goodbye before riding with her parents to the emergency room.
When Tommy arrived at the hospital he did not know all the details of Hunter’s condition related to the heat exposure in the vehicle. Misty admits it was sheer agony waiting as the doctors and nurses worked to try and resuscitate their child. She was praying with every fiber of her being, Misty says, alternating with pleading. “They worked very hard on Hunter. But at 6:37pm, the doctor told us there was nothing else they could do. I was devastated. I asked myself, ‘How could you have let this happen?’ I prided myself on being a good mom.”
The grace of God has allowed Misty to overcome the self-incriminations and to realize what happened was a tragic accident. “There is a Bible verse, Job 13:15, that says ‘Though He slay me, still I will trust Him.’ We are still worshiping and praising God today. We could not get through the days on our own strength.”
Tommy and Misty never returned to their rental home after the accident. Their family packed up their belongings for them and stored them. The couple and Trey have temporarily moved in with Misty’s parents until they set up their new mobile home on their land in Hineston this month. They never wanted to see the car again that Hunter had climbed into either. A local dealership kindly sent someone to pick up the vehicle and the couple was able to get a previously owned Chevy Tahoe to replace their vehicle.
“God brings beauty from ashes. And God is showing us how Hunter is being used,” Misty says, adding that the toddler’s funeral service touched hundreds. “The funeral was like a home-going service. God’s presence was so strong in that place. At the service we sang ‘All I Need to do is Worship.’ If my soul could be heard, that’s what it would sound like. At the funeral, we stood and started praising God,” Misty recalls with heart-wrenching emotion.
At the service, Misty says she held Hunter wrapped in his blanket, and asked God for strength. “God is carrying us through this. Hunter was ours, but he was God’s first. God is our rock. Our relationship with God – that’s untouchable. I always told my mom that Hunter was a little angel who had wandered away from Heaven. But they found him, and took him home.”