07/08/12 — In their names: Kristie Jernigan Lee

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In their names: Kristie Jernigan Lee

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 8, 2012 1:50 AM

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Aileen Jernigan holds a picture of her daughter, Kristie Jernigan Lee, while Dwayne Lee stands next to Kristie's grave. Aileen lost her daughter and Dwayne his wife and the mother of his two children when she was killed by a drunken driver.

It rode in on the back of a cool, fall breeze -- the lone white dove that landed within feet of where, just more than a month earlier, Gavin Lee had witnessed the burial of his 37-year-old mother, Kristie.

It was the first Sunday of Advent 2010 -- a day that still brings tears to the eyes of those members of the woman's family who had shared their grief with their congregation moments before that young boy approached a bird he had never seen before.

"I heard Gavin hollering at me, so I came running out here," the boy's father, Dwayne, said, looking down at his wife's final resting place. "He said, 'Look. It's a white dove. Do you reckon we can pick him up?'"

Dwayne was skeptical.

Wild birds don't typically welcome human hands, he thought.

But the 8-year-old boy reached for it anyway.

And within a few seconds, that dove was cooing in Gavin's arms.

So he carried it inside his grandparent's house -- wishing, as he showed it off to everyone he could find, that his sister, Hannah, and his aunt, Kimberly, were home to share in the experience.

But he knew they wouldn't be back for hours -- that long before they returned, he would have set it free.

"Later on, when they got home from the movies, Hannah told Kimberly she wished she had been here to see it," Dwayne said.


Hannah picked up her cell phone when Kristie told her to call 911.

It was Oct. 17, 2010, a day the now-13-year-old still doesn't feel comfortable talking about.

"Hannah, she's kind of like me," Dwayne said. "She puts those things in the bottle and screws the lid on tight."

She was riding home from church with her mother when a drunken driver hit them head-on.

"After she called 911, she called me," said Aileen Jernigan, Hannah's grandmother and Kristie's mother. "She said, 'I'm fine, but Mama's hurt real bad.'"

By the end of the night, Kristie had passed away, and Hermelindo Castro had been charged with felony death by motor vehicle.

But even now, nearly two years after the incident, Aileen can't talk about the man convicted for taking away her little girl without getting emotional.

Losing Kristie left her wounded.

"She was a sweet, loving daughter," Aileen said, tears streaming down her face. "All children need their mother for love and support and her son and daughter, they'll never have that now."


Aileen stands over her daughter's grave and lowers her head.

Kristie's final resting spot is a peaceful place -- a clearing in between her parent's home and the one she lived in. It stays quiet apart from birds chirping and the creak of an old wooden swing.

"I couldn't stand the thought of her being anywhere else," Aileen said.

But the truth is, she still finds it difficult to cope with the fact that her daughter is gone -- that she wasn't laid to rest in the family plot first, before the daughter she brought into the world nearly 40 years ago.

"I used to tease her. I told her that whenever I passed away, I was gonna be buried over here so she could walk by and say, 'Hey Mama,'" Aileen said, breaking down. "Now I'm the one out here talking to her."


It was the Monday morning after the first Sunday of Advent 2010, and Kimberly was greeted by an unexpected visitor moments after she stepped outside.

"She walks off her porch and the dove flies down in front of her and lands," Dwayne said.

Gavin smiles.

"That same white dove," the boy said.

And just as it had for Gavin and Dwayne the day before, it welcomed the touch of human hands -- cooing as Kimberly lifted it into her arms.

"We were all able to hold it that day," she said, pulling out her cell phone to show off pictures she took of her family members holding the bird. "But what you can't describe is the feeling you had when you held it."

A single tear ran down Aileen's face.

"I would tell the story, but I would fall all to pieces," she said. "It felt like a confirmation that Kristie was OK."

Kimberly nodded her head.

"It was a sign of God's promise and His love," she said. "It was confirmation that He was there with Kristie that night."

Dwayne slides a finger underneath his sunglasses to wipe tears from his eyes.

He still can't explain just why that lone white dove rode on the back of a cool, fall wind to his wife's final resting place -- why it chose to linger on that family farm for more than 24 hours.

But he knows how it made him feel to hold it in his arms -- how it comforted every one of his late wife's family members who came into contact with it.

"And I know this," he said. "I had never seen a white dove before, and I sure haven't seen one since."