Touched By An Angel

Last Saturday, I was overwhelmed after receiving thoughtful and cherished gifts in memory of my butterfly Justin. I got a beautiful picture of Justin that his friend Anna took of him when he was in the 7th grade; and she was in the 8th.  The innocent and angelic look on his face just set me back, it was beautiful.   I will post later. Justin’s Art Teacher, Ms. Hall, also brought us two beautiful pieces of commissioned art related to Justin.

I also spoke to Justin’s MS Choral teacher  Ms. Burtchaell and we talked about when I wrote her when Justin was in the 6th grade about to attend H-W. The entering 7th graders had to pick between a choral or musical instrument for class. Justin chose his voice as his instrument and wanted to make sure that there were other boys taking choral, he did not want to be the only one.  Ms. Burtchaell told me “ Justin can take anything that he wanted and that at H-W we allow our students to choose their craft and  “to be and do what they want.”  Justin , my angel baby loved to sing wanted to make sure that other boys where going to sing so he would not be alone. Before I went to sleep that night,  I got a message from  a young lady named Lora who attended the Student Diversity and Leadership Conference  (SDLC) in Washington, DC this year.  I had never met her before. When she told me that she lived on a street with the meaning of  “butterfly”, I could hardly breathe. She had no ideal about the significance of what “Butterfly” means to us!!!

I was so touched by the following message delivered by Lora last week:

“Everything happens for a reason. That’s what everyone always says. But sometimes, it is so hard to understand why. Why has a boy, so young, so talented, with so much to offer to this world been prematurely taken from it? The world needs more people like Justin. People who care. But the steps you have taken in his name, to carry on his dream are laudable. I have a picture, very similar to the one you just sent me with Dr. Harris. Justin and I probably stood in that exact same line together, waiting to get a photograph. This year, before I had even heard you speak, I hung back to be able to get the last photograph and conversation with our keynote speaker. Justin was a wonderful human being. He was a role model. Always leading by example and a beautiful example too.

Full of compassion, kindness, respect, and most of all, love. I am honored that you chose to share all these memories with me. Although I did not know Justin personally, at SDLC, we are all family. Justin was part of my SDLC family, and thus a part of me. I know I am just a student but if you would ever like to share more memories, I would love to hear them. I’m here to listen and support you in any way you can. I have so much respect for all that you are doing in your beloved Justin’s name.”

That night I could hardly sleep, but fortunately, I was able to have my first dream about my baby and it was as real as it could be.  I was able to pick Justin out of my dream and hug his sweet face.

Lora came by today and we met and talked a bit. Later she told me that she searched the Internet and realized that Justin’s Celebration was held at the church she grew up in.  She was also a member of the choir. Then she saw the video that was produced a few days after Justin’s service by a Videographer

Chad Michael whom we did not know at all.

This evening Lora confirmed the following in a message to me:

I am sure you have seen this, and watching it again probably is tough hard right now, but I just want you to know that I believe the Peace on Earth song that is played occasionally throughout the video is sung by me and my choir”

So the following facts still stand:

  • Lora met Justin briefly at the SDLC conference in 2012
  • Lora heard us speak at the SDLC conference in Justin’s honor in 2013 and felt compelled to reach out to me last week
  • Lora grew up on a street that means “Butterfly”
  • I met Lora for the first time today
  • Last year Justin was the last one to take a picture with the keynote speaker at the conference
  • This year Lora was the last one to take a picture with the keynote speaker
  • Today she realized her personal connection to her church where she grew up in and sang in the choir; it was the same church we held Justin’s service  because of it’s size and beauty
  • She also realized that her voice is in the background of the video that was made a few days after Justin’s service by someone we did not know, in honor of Justin
  • Lora auditioned for Annie and sang “Tomorrow” a few years ago
  • Justin sang “Tomorrow” for an audition when he was 13 years old
  • Justin was an “Earth angel” according the Chef Lisa Dahl who we met in Sedona. Chef said that our Justin was just like her only son “Justin” who died while being a Good Samaritan.  Chef Lisa was my “Tess” from the old series “Touched by an Angel”
  • Lora’s visit soothed my soul today with her infinite wisdom, kind words about my Justin, depth of love and quest for fair treatment and inclusion of everyone.
  • She told me “Although she is just a student, she would walk by my side if I ever need support.”  Today, my newest “Guardian Angel” Lora touched me and left me speechless….
  • This blue butterfly did fly on Darrell when we were in Phoenix

No more words, and I can’t make this up.

Crazy, Synchronistic, I don’t know what to say. But I will take it so I can sleep peacefully tonight.  I will continue to listen to the sweet music of my baby’s name and songs he left for us to hear as often as we can.

Thank you Lora!!!!!

Love, you Justin!!!!!

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved

JCWWP_Logo_with_Butterfly_II_copy copy


I have not been able to sit and watch any sort of TV or movies in months. Last night, I decided to try and watch President Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU) address and also get a glimpse of my friend Portia Collins son Jason who sat near First Lady, Michelle Obama as her guest. As the SOTU began, I immediately got nostalgic because in the past, I would sit comfortably in the sun room along with Darrell and Justin and we would watch and listen, as a family, to the coverage of elections and whenever the President spoke.

Justin loved history and politics and was able to have a great teacher, Mr. Newhart in 7thgrade during the initial Obama Election. I clearly remember how stressed I was on Election Day November 6, 2012. I was so nervous and could barely do anything. Later in the evening when the President was re-elected, Justin posted on his Facebook (FB) page: “I knew Obama won when I felt the thumps from praise dancing upstairs….” We laughed after he showed us all the “Likes” he got from his post. It was funny and true; I was dancing up a storm after that victory! Darrell also told Justin that he had the opportunity to be the President of the United States. When Justin looked at Darrell in disbelief, Darrell firmly said: “Yes you Can!”

All of the topics that were to be addressed in the SOTU hit home. No doubt the aggregate of the issues will somehow affect every American citizen at some stage in their life. I honestly got a knot in my throat when the President began to talk about the plans and goals for Education. All that Darrell and I could do, as we glanced over at each other, was shed a few tears and shake our heads because that dream of ours for Justin’s higher education was beyond deferred it will never be heard. However, we did firmly agree that since we knew the importance of Education (that was instilled in us by our parents) we were so glad that we were able to give Justin the best; even if it meant to switch institutions to find the right fit for him. We often told Justin that “ Yes you can follow your dreams and goals.” Furthermore, we also know that the majority of American students do not always have such a choice to choose the best education that others are fortunate to have. Our public education system is floundering and sometimes kids are unfortunately being passed through the system.

I was glad to be interrupted by the ringing sound of the phone and so I left the room. It was my niece Laureina -who recently graduated from UC Berkeley and who chose to work in one of the most dreadful spots of our country as an English Teacher in rural Arkansas. I asked her if she was watching the SOTU and she said no, she was getting ready for her next day. Due to the aftermath of a colleague leaving, she had inherited yet another class to teach 8th grade English, and she now had over 110 students.

She called to tell me that she has seen a tremendous difference in “her” kids reading abilities and that today she gave them each a bookmark that her mom Susan had made (using Justin’s infamous “Happy to see the sun” painting.) She also showed them the recent video of the student who won the Art Contest to Monaco from the school that Justin adopted to help along with his peers from school. Laureina told me that she wanted to give her students hope that their dreams can be heard. She tells them that “ Yes. They can do better. Yes. They can read, and Yes. She will help them. They said: “ Ms. Toler, you know so many famous people.”

JCWWP Dare 2 Dream Workshop

Unfortunately, she said the big difference is that these kids never see anything positive on TV. They see crime daily and at a minimum weekly, they know someone in their family or someone that they know has been impacted or afflicted with crime. So, they come to school with extra burdens, they have heavy loads on their mind and they are numb with even thinking about hope.

Laureina said: “Auntie, Justin was too much and is still impacting people who never even knew him. It is so powerful that people continue to tell you often about what Justin meant to them, even if they never met him. How do you feel when you get feedback? “ I told her, “I love it when people reach out to me and Darrell to tell us about their connection to feelings of Justin. It does the mind and body good. Really! It helps me get through the day. So how do you keep hope alive? Justin’s goals and dreams will now have to live through us and through all of you.”

Laureina, Justin and Maurita

As for my niece, she takes her job seriously and is making strides in her quest to be the “best teacher” she can be. Last week she posted this last week on FB:

this last week on FB:

“That simple, yet epic moment when one 8th grader who avoided reading at the beginning of the year interrupts teacher reading to ask if he can read the next paragraph to the class. This could all mean 1) he really wasn’t feeling my reading voice OR 2) his reading/ confidence is growing. I’ll take either one! We call that progress, baby!” Laureina

I feel that my badge of motherhood has been stripped from my heart. I have to tell myself that I will always be a mother “ Yes you can” be the surrogate mother to so many others who need your guidance and love; just like I gave to Justin.

As I write this message, I could not help but reflect back to last week when I was walking with Amber down a unpaved trail when I saw ahead of me a mother carrying a newborn baby close to her heart. As I looked down, I at her feet, I noticed that the mother’s shoe was untied. I immediately yelled, “ Hey mother with the new baby stop, your shoe is untied. “ I walked towards her and said, “ Stick your foot out so I can tie your shoe. “ She immediately asked me “ Are you a Mother? “ Amber was horrified. I calmly told her “ My only son recently died.” She did not know what to say. She said choking on her words, “I’m sorry.” Since I was wearing Ambers HW visor, the mother said, “ Was he the swimmer from Harvard-Westlake? My brother went there. Do you know Portia Collins?” I said, “Yes that was my son Justin and Yes, I know Portia, and she is my friend.” She then gave me a hug. I gave her a card with Justin’s picture on it. She said, “Thank you.” We parted because quite frankly, there were no other words.

When I got home, I emailed Portia and told her about my encounter. She said she knew the lady, and that her sons Jarron and Jason went to HW with her brother. The next day, Portia sent me the following response from a dialogue she had with another friend.

“Gloria, My friend was on a walk in the canyons. She noticed a very nice young mother carrying a very small baby girl walking down the hill in front of her. My friend stopped the young mother (a total stranger) and told her that her shoe is untied and as she mentioned it to the young mother, she began to tie the shoe all-in-one-motion.

The young mother was shocked that my friend had bent over and tied the shoe so quickly. The young mother asked my friend if she had children of her own. My friend, proudly said, “Yes, I had one child but he suddenly passed away almost a year ago.” The young mother was startled by my friend’s honesty and really had no words other than to express her immediate and sincere sorrow.

My friend was wearing a visor. The young mother noticed the HW logo on the visor and she desperately wanted to change the subject, so she asked my friend if she knew Portia Collins?

Well, my friend is Susan Carr and the young mother on the walk today is Vanessa Karubian. Vanessa proudly said that her brother graduated from HW and that he went to high school with Portia Collins’ sons. Susan, exclaimed, ‘That’s my Girl which is an affectionate expression often used amongst sister-friends.

My point: You never know where your reputation will surface so try and make a good impression with every touch with those you know well and with total strangers….” Portia

Gloria wrote back to Portia:

“Portia, This is a great story, thanks for sharing. We all know you never know where you will meet a stranger with so many connections to friends. That little girl’s name is Stella, which was my Mom’s name and I think fondly of my mother every time I see them. I often think of Susan and whisper a prayer for her family.


I often ponder on how I will respond to that question “ Do you have kids?” Because it is bound to come up over and over again. It took me back to the book “I love you forever” that still rests on the bookshelf that my friend Tona gave me when I was pregnant with Justin. I, in turn, have given it to dozens of friends. Tonight, I had to pull it out and read it and of course cry. It is a story about a young mother who watches over her son from birth until he became a grown man. Each night she would sneak into his room, no matter what age he was, hold and rock her son and say to him “ I love you forever, I love you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.” When she got to old to care for herself, her son would sneak into her room and hold her each night. You know the night before Justin left this Earth, I was lying on his bed and I told him to help me up. He said, “ Mom, you know you can get up. When you get old, there will be a time when I will have to help you up, but not now!” He said I love you, I told him “ I love you too!” So glad I did. But now, everyone out there, we are going to need you to help hold us up as we walk this road. Yes, you can!

President Obama-Yes you can be the leader of our United States, Portia-Yes You Can be the proud Mother of your sons Jarron and Jason, Laureina -Yes You Can be the best Teacher that “ Your” students can have and so desperately need. Yes, I can stop to help a stranger. Everyone alive you have the opportunity to say ‘Yes I can!” to do everything positive that is at your fingertips. Yes, I will proudly say yes I am a mother and I will always be Justin’s mother and for as long as I’m living Justin, my baby, you will be!

My Guardian Angel – Nina

My guardian angel Nina who only met my baby Justin Carr World-Peace for the first time ONE HOUR before his untimely transition sent me this gift via a FB message back in November 2013.
I read it all the time because it proves to me that Justin was living his life to the fullest up until the moments right before is untimely passing. Yesterday, was my first time visiting the pool and I met Nina officially for the first time to give her the biggest hug ever for sending me this GIFT. I love it when people tell me what Justin meant to them so keep in contact with me. More gifts hearing about Justin’s life (outside of our home) are very much appreciated. It helps me get through my quiet days. Nina said it was ok to post her private message she sent to me and share it with you all. Thank you Nina for finding the words…
              I’m sure you are probably wondering who I am. My name is Nina. I am currently a sophomore . Now you’re probably wondering, “Why is this girl I have never met before messaging me?” Well the reason why I am messaging you is because I want to thank you. On February 22, 2013 I met a very special person who, little did I know, was going to change my life. His name was Justin Carr. On that day I was going to the Upper school (since I was in 9th grade then I had to take the sports shuttle) to swim practice with Coach Carroll. When we first got there Carroll told us that we were going to watch some film first. That is where I saw Justin for the first time. He was surrounded by all of his friends. He was so happy and joyful which made me so excited to get to swim with him. It was pretty much my first time swimming with the swim team since I had just finished Water Polo. Anyway, there was a little time before Carroll could get the projector up so everyone was just chatting. I remember Justin was laughing about some broken chair next to him. He was so funny and I was laughing so hard. I’m sure that that was one of the hardest times I have ever laughed. Him and Coach Carroll were also talking about this movie called Pride and also Coach Carroll was congratulating him on bringing Samuel L. Jackson to the school. Then, Coach Carroll told us that we were going to get into the pool. I remember being so excited because me and Justin were in the same lane.  I had never talked to him but he kept on making me laugh so hard and I know if we ever had the chance we would be the best of friends. He kept on joking about how cold the pool was and how he didn’t want to get in. A few minutes in they made him go into some of the faster lanes because he was way faster than al of us in the slow lane. I just told myself I would talk to him after practice no big deal. And then the unthinkable happened. I just remember telling myself “He is going to be okay, everything is fine”. And then when I got the email I could barely breathe. All I could say is “He was right there… I saw him… he was okay… . I remember how supportive everyone was on Monday. I was in Vocal Ensemble at the time and I had just finished talking to my dean so I was a little late to class. I was about to tell Ms. Burtchaell why I was late but all she did was hug me and she said while she was hugging me and crying “I love you”. I don’t know what I would do without her. She let me stay in the choir room after Vocal Ensemble, since I had a free, with the Madrigals. Ms. Burtchaell talked about Justin and how he was in Madrigals too. The Madrigals started singing a song called Voces Lucis. I have never heard the madrigals sound so beautiful and it was all for Justin. When I went to the vigil I had never seen a place so full of love and compassion. His friends sang beautiful songs for him and your Husband sang Our Father so beautifully. It inspired me to learn more about this incredible boy. When I was looking around heard his beautiful voice in the recording of Tomorrow from Annie and It’s alright. I dedicated my swim season to Justin and tried to do the best I could. When I finally learned to do the butterfly, the right way, I was overjoyed! Coach Carroll was so proud that he let me do the 50 butterfly for JV at the Championships! After school ended I decided to go to this choir camp at Idyllwild because I heard my new choral teacher, Mr. Guerrero was faculty there and a some kids from HW were going.  During this I met Adam Lange, Benny Weisman, Michelle Lee, and Landon Fadel at Idyllwild. All of them sang with Justin and always used to sing It’s alright during our breaks. I became really close with all of them. One day we where singing this song called Dawn ( ) our conductor starting crying. She started talking about this girl who used to sing for her and had just passed after she got Pneumonia. Immediately after this you saw all the Harvard-Westlake kids one by one starting to cry up a storm as we tried to sing it again. Benny was right in back of me and as soon as he saw me look at him and start crying and he just hugged me without saying a word as if he knew me and knew everything. We all one by one got out of out seat and went to this little stairway right next to the choir room. And we all just hugged each other and Mr. Guerrero came outside to talk us and he said “aren’t you glad you have each other?”. If I weren’t crying my face off I would have said “I am so happy to have met these people and bond with them like I have never bonded with anyone”. After this, I saw the mail about Hairspray and knew I had to audition. I worked countless hours practicing over and over my lines, songs, and dances moves. When the cast list came out and I saw Benny and I both made it, I was too happy for words. I was cast as one of Maybelle’s crew and I couldn’t be happier. I made so many friends during the time we were all practicing. As it came closer to opening night I worked I hard as I could to get everything perfect. I met with Dr. Faultus twice to go over my alto part even when he said I had it solid. When it came to opening night I was so exited and scared but I knew I had to do it for him. Each time before the performance I would hide my Justin bracelet in my pockets or under my shoe for good luck. During the last performance right before we were about to go on for “I know where I’ve Been” we all where outside and we all agreed that we had to sing the loudest and strongest we’ve ever sung it for Justin. While we were singing I Know Where I’ve Been everything finally made sense to me. From the first day I met him he’s been with me. Every time I swam he was right there cheering me on. When I was almost to scared to audition he was there with me. When I auditioned with I Know Where I’ve Been he was standing right there supporting me. And when I was on that stage he was right next to us singing with us. As I held Kennedy Green’s and Daniel Davila’s hands I felt so strong and so safe. As if nothing could tear us apart. I don’t know if you saw but everyone on that stage was crying but all of us were trying to sing as loudly and beautifully as we could through those tears. I have never felt anymore love than I felt on that stage that night. After the song Zita hugged me and I was so happy. That was the happiest night of my life so far. And it was all because of Justin.
Every heart he has touched has become a better person because of him. He showed me how to be “Big Blonde and Beautiful”, how to do the Madison, and has taught me the most important lessons of all …To love and be loved. To hug everyone as if this could be the last. To sing and dance like nobody’s watching. That you’re never fully dressed without a smile. And that being yourself is the best you, you can be. You may not remember this but when you came around and hugged me and I started crying, you didn’t say, “Who are you?” or “and why are you crying you didn’t even know him”; you said “It’s okay, It alright”. And you loved me without even knowing who I was. You and him and your husband have changed my life forever and I cannot thank you enough for that. So thank you. Thank you for hugging me. Thank you for loving me even though you didn’t know me. You and your husband were the best parents Justin could ever hope for. If I could talk to Justin just one I would thank him for letting me into his dream. Thank you, your husband and Justin for being my angels in disguise.
Love and Peace,                                                                                                  Nina (Motormouth’s Gang Member)
JCWWP_Logo_with_Butterfly_II_copy copy

Annual Justin Carr Memorial Swim Meet was held yesterday

Yesterday, we did it.. I walked the pool, I touched the water…
I made the sign of the cross,
I said a prayer,
and thinking of my baby Justin made me smile through my tears.
The HW swim team and Coach Carroll and Coach Bible, embraced us.
I spoke to Justin Carr World-Peace team mates, they gave me hugs, Nina walked me through the moments and the joy that Justin brought to her on that first day she met him. And Grant -what can I say about the friendship you had with Justin was a gift.
Justin’s Art Teacher Ms. Hall designed the trophy which is a image of Justin doing the butterfly, the sun from Justin’s infamous ” happy to see the sun come up” , the triangle is synonymous with the ” renaissance man, Loyola had a special cheer for Justin, and we saw so many kids who swam with Justin on the Rose Bowl club team.
It did not rain much, and my girls, Portia, Nasreen, Angie, Natalie, Amber, Shirley, Cathleen, Ms. Hall,Jeanne ,  all stood by my side thank you. I made it through the first annual Justin Carr swim meet. Oh, and we started out the meet with Justin singing the anthem there was not a dry eye in the stadium.
Thank you everyone. Justin, there are no more words.. Love you and miss you more.

In Loving Memory of Justin Carr, by Susan and Darrell Carr