East Texas police officer Eric Ellison was tasked last week with telling an 18-year-old boy that his parents had been killed in a motorcycle accident by a drunk driver — a moment he called one of the most difficult in his 21-year career. The boy told the officer about his upcoming high school graduation and how his parents had been so proud of him and excited to see it.
Then Ellison made the teen a promise: He would stand in his parents’ place during the boy’s high school graduation. Over the weekend, he kept his word.
Riley and Emily Portie were killed while riding their motorcycle on May 24. A pickup truck crashed into them in their hometown in Orange, Tex., about 30 miles from Beaumont. When police got there, the truck was on top of them. The driver, 29-year-old Travis Collins, was arrested and charged with intoxication manslaughter, according to KBMT-TV. Eric Ellison, an officer with the Orange Police Department, was told to notify the couple’s children.
Ellison went to their home and found 18-year-old Kazzie Portie home alone. When he broke the news to Kazzie, he told BuzzFeed News, the boy said he didn’t know what to do. Kazzie was planning to graduate in less than a week from Little Cypress-Mauriceville high school in Orange, Tex., and, without his parents there to support him, he wasn’t sure whether he could do it.
“I said, ‘You are going to walk!’” Ellison told BuzzFeed. “Your mom and dad will have front-row seats looking down from heaven, and I’ll stand in their place. I’ve got your back.”
On Saturday, in an auditorium in a neighboring town, Kazzie’s name was called. Donning a black robe and mortarboard, he made his way forward to get his diploma. Everyone in the auditorium stood up and cheered because, standing on the other side of the stage, Ellison was waiting for him.
“I walked up on the stage he looked at me and I looked at him and we both cried, and that’s okay,” Ellison told KBMT-TV.
The two hugged — a scene captured in photos and videos, including one from Kazzie’s brother, and posted on social media. “If you didn’t have a wet eye you needed to check your pulse,” he told KBMT-TV. “The class of 2015, 245 seniors and their families, on their feet and everyone right behind him.”
“My parents talked in the last month how proud they were of me for graduating, and not just for graduating, but how proud of me they were for the man I have become,” Kazzie told BuzzFeed.
“Seeing Officer Ellison there to congratulate me meant the world to me,” he added. “It was so nice to see that he actually showed a genuine care for me and my family’s situation instead of us just being another ‘case.’”
Late Sunday night, Ellison posted a message on Facebook, thanking people for their support.
“I am HUMBLED for the positive comments I’ve received about being there for Kazzie,” he wrote. “I just want everybody to remember that through this tragedy, this was ALL about Kazzie and his day to shine. I just did what I would want someone to do if I had left my girls early,” he added.