NOBLE — A life-size statue of a 5-year-old boy who was killed by a stray bullet more than four years ago was unveiled Monday evening in this Cleveland County town. Austin Haley was fishing at a family-owned pond with his little brother, grandfather and great-grandfather when he was accidentally shot by a Noble police officer. The officer was trying to get a snake out of birdhouse, firing two shots in the process. “The first one went through my dad’s legs,” said Austin’s mother, Renee Haley. “About six seconds later, the other one hit Austin in the back of the head. He was killed instantly.” Monday was Austin’s birthday. The family’s eldest child would have been 10. Austin’s father, Jack, said that time has done little to erase the pain. “We think about him every day,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if there’s a statue there or not ... he’s still a part of our family.” And Austin isn’t only thought of. He’s spoken of, too. “We talk about him so much that it’s like he’s still an active part of the family,” Renee Haley said. “My son Gabriel, who wasn’t even born when Austin died, feels like he knows him. One day, he said to me: ‘Momma, I miss Austin so bad.’” The Haleys, who weren’t planning to have any more children back in August 2007, now have an additional son and daughter. Gabriel is 3 and Mikayla was born six months ago. Dalton Haley, who was at the pond with his brother that day, is now 7. “They’re both miracles,” Renee Haley said of her two youngest children. “Before Austin left us, I was headed toward a hysterectomy ... I wasn’t supposed to have any more children.”
Temporary showcaseMade of bronze, the statue in Austin’s likeness was commissioned and paid for by First State Bank of Noble. It temporarily will be showcased at the family’s home on Etowah Road until a final destination is secured. “We just couldn’t believe that someone would want to do that for us,” Renee Haley said. “We’re glad to have it here for everyone to see.” Family members gathered Monday at the family property in Noble for the unveiling and to release balloons in honor of Austin, something they do every year on his birthday. The balloons have a note inside and the Haleys say they’ve gotten a response from San Antonio. “It’s something we do for Austin, to honor him and tell people why we are doing,” Renee Haley said. “So, to get a call from somebody in San Antonio was really great.”
No lawsuitIn a society where litigation and wrongful death lawsuits are commonplace, it’s almost odd to find out the Haleys never sued the Noble Police Department or the officers who were trying to get the snake out of the birdhouse for their roles in Austin’s death. But that doesn’t mean the couple didn’t want to see some form of justice. For Austin’s father, it’s sometimes hard to conceal the hurt and anger that come from losing a child in such a manner. No jail time in the case is something that bothers Jack Haley to this day. “They stepped over a rake and some hedge clippers or something like that — which they could’ve used to get that snake down — before they decided to fire those shots,” he said. “We did feel like an example should have been made ... they should have at least had to spend one day in jail.” Officers Paul Bradley Rogers and Robert Shawn Richardson were placed on probation and ordered to relinquish their police certifications. Richardson, who gave the order to fire the shots, was handed a 5-year term. Rogers, who actually fired the shot, was given 2 years. Richardson and Rogers, along with former Police Chief Ben Daves and another Noble police officer who was at the scene that day, were fired two months after Austin’s death. Austin’s mother said thinking about those things won’t do any good — or bring her son back. And both she and her husband credit the family’s faith in God for getting the Haleys by “during those quiet times right after it happened.” “We will never get over losing Austin that way, it’s probably impossible for most parents and especially us,” she said. “But holding on to those feelings is harder, some times, than letting them go and sort of moving, as best we can, from this horrible thing that happened to our family. Our faith is what got us through and it continues to see us through every day.”
A special placeAs for the scene of the shooting, it remains a special place for the Haleys despite the feelings it evokes. “We still go to the pond ... we still try to carry on like before,” Renee Haley said. “That was my dad’s favorite place to go with the grandkids and they still do that. It wasn’t easy at the beginning but it was something we had to do as a family.” Austin’s parents say they often think about what their son would look like and what he might have become had his life not been cut down that summer day in 2007. “Austin was friends with everybody and he lived his life, every day, like there was no tomorrow,” Jack Haley said. “And more people should do that, because you never know when your last one is coming.”
‘The day the stachue came alive' By Dalton Haley Editor's note: Dalton Haley, who was with his older brother, Austin, when the shooting occurred, wrote this story about what might happen if the life-size statue of his brother came to life. Dalton was 3 the day his brother died. He's now 7 and the eldest living child of Jack and Renee Haley. One day these people were putting up a statue of Austin, and surprise!!! I sat right beside him. When they were done, I hugged Austin. It felt like a golden ring going onto my hand. He looked like a handsome bubba, and I loved him very much. I was hugging it and hugging it and hugging it. My mama, Renee, was taking pictures ... when all of a sudden he came alive! We played my Wii together first. He said, “Bubba, this is so much fun. Do you want to go play outside?” I said, “Yeah, sure. Let's bring Gabriel and Mikayla. We'll jump on the trampoline and play on our swing set.” Then, we went to go get a snack inside. We ate a chocolate chip cookie. After that, we went to play with my toys upstairs. Austin's favorite toy was Buzz Lightyear and Woody, too. My favorite was Austin being with me. We went downstairs to read our Bible. He stayed with us forever and ever and ever. I gave him hugs and kisses and more hugs and kisses. I didn't stop. He gave me hugs and kisses over and over, too. He loves me more than I love him and that's impossible because I love him too much. It made me feel like I had treasure from Heaven. He never had to leave ... ever ... ever. So, we lived happily ever after.