SNELLVILLE, Ga. - A Snellville couple is remembering the loss of their son on this Memorial Day.
Specialist Etienne Murphy was killed on May 27, 2017 during a rollover crash in Syria.
His parents, Sheila Mitchell-Murphey and Calvin Murphy received the news the day after.
"I was actually texting him asking how many were in his platoon because I was sending a care package, not knowing the day before he was in a vehicle roll over," Mitchell-Murphy said. "So I'm celebrating while he's in distress. So when I get home, I get a knock on the door and they say your son was in a vehicle rollover and he didn't make it. I just died."
The 22-year-old was just five days into his four-month-long deployment.
Murphy was based at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, just about four hours from his hometown of Snellville.
Mitchell-Murphy recalls the last time she saw her son in person.
"I couldn't take my hands off of him. He said, 'I'll be back.' That's the last time I touched him. That's the last time I heard his voice. That's the last time I touched him. It hurts my heart. My whole soul is gone," she said.
Murphy was born in Boston, but the family moved to Snellville when he was 7 years old.
He attended South Gwinnett High School and knew at a young age that he wanted to join the Army.
Murphy loved fishing, was a Star Wars fanatic, and loved the New England Patriots.
Now, less than a mile from the high school he once attended sits a wall with his name and a banner with his picture.
On Monday, his parents stood on the side of the road, with a flag in hand. They said they wanted to remind others that people like their son are the meaning behind this holiday.
"We just want everyone to remember our son. This is the day that we want everyone to understand that it's not about cookouts or sales. Remember those who allowed them to do the things that they do today. Because freedom isn't free," Murphy said.
In past years, they spent Memorial Day gathering with other gold star families, finding comfort in one another.
They couldn't do that this year because of the coronavirus pandemic but the couple says they're all together in spirit.
"All the gold star families are awesome to me because they are pushing through the most horrible pain that you could ever imagine... I just love them so much. And thank you, America, for honoring my son and all of the other fallen heroes who are no long here with us. That is what Memorial Day is about," Mitchell-Murphy said.
Mitchell-Murphy said a part of her grieving process has included writing open and raw posts about her pain.
She's now turned that into a book and hopes other gold star families find comfort in knowing they're not alone in their pain.
You can find more information about her book here.
A portion of the proceeds goes to Amvets and the Specialist Etienne Murphy Gold Star Parents Relief Fund.
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