He was the little blond boy with the cherubic face and magnetic smile whom the world first got to know after a traumatic brain injury from a fallen tree limb made international headlines.
But it was Tripp Halstead’s brave fight for recovery over the past five years — captured on social media by his devoted and seemingly indefatigable parents Stacy and Bill — that inspired millions.
On Sunday, hundreds filed into the Jefferson Civic Center to pay last respects to 7-year-old Tripp, who died Thursday after being rushed to the hospital. In 2012, a tree branch struck then-2-year-old Tripp in the head at his Winder day care, and he spent weeks in a coma and 10 months in the hospital.
Mourners clasped hands as they walked into the civic center for a receiving line with the family. Some knew Tripp and his family through church or Tripp’s school, Jefferson Academy. Others said they never met the little boy but followed his recovery on social media.
Tripp’s father, Bill Halstead, was the only family member to speak at the service, which lasted about 30 minutes.
“To say this is a hard day would be a drastic understatement,” he told the audience of several hundred. But he said it was easier knowing how many people had been touched by Tripp’s life.
Tripp died as he entered the world, Halstead said, in the warm embrace of his parents.
“I can say I saw his first breath and his last,” Halstead said. “He was never alone in his journey. Never. From birth until he went to sleep.”
A devout member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Halstead said he would live his remaining days to be sure he’s there when Tripp awakens again after the resurrection.
About 1.4 million followers on Facebook tracked Tripp’s recovery. The diary of his life and that of his parents was frank but also funny. There were moments of sorrow and of joy, from frequent setbacks that returned little Tripp to the hospital to the antics of the family’s cat, Sailor, to meeting Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore on the set of the comedy “Blended.”
Through it all, the Halsteads maintained an optimism buttressed by faith, family and a community that rallied behind them. The family also helped raise money for children’s charities.
In a late Saturday post on Facebook, Tripp’s mother, Stacy Halstead, wrote that she remained in shock about her son’s death.
“Thank you for all your prayers and support and I think the world of all of you,” she wrote. “I know [you’re] hurting too. Tripp knew how much he was loved and how many people followed his story. Love you all.”
In an earlier post after Tripp’s passing, his mother wrote: “We love you Trippadoo and you will never realize the impact you made on our lives.”
Delisa Hill of Jefferson was among those who followed Tripp’s journey on Facebook. She only met Tripp once, but she said Tripp inspired people far beyond Jefferson.
“The whole city just bonded to them really quick,” said Hill, whose grandchildren attended school with Tripp. “It’s a small community and it’s hit this community really hard.”
Through it all, the Halsteads were grateful for Tripp’s life and for the time they had with him after the accident, said JoAnn Richards, whose daughter, Leslye Richards Sinopoli, was Tripp’s in-home nurse for five years.
Richards said her daughter also grieves.
“She said, ‘Mom, it’s like losing my grandson,’” Richards said. “She loved taking care of that little boy.”
Sinopoli would help care for Tripp when his parents took part in efforts to raise money for children in need.
Shirley Stancel of Maysville said she got to know the family through Zumba classes taught by Stacy Halstead.
She said she met the family at an event to raise money for the Halsteads and last saw Tripp at a similar gathering to support another child in need.
Stancel said the Halsteads’ first instinct is to give back.
“They are just special people,” she said.
Her husband Benny said Tripp’s death is a loss for the entire community. But his pain is over.
“He’s not suffering anymore,” Benny Stancel said.
The outpouring of support spilled out across social media as well.
“One little boy, without one word said, brought millions of people together,” Angela Gray posted on the Facebook page for Tripp. “Millions of people from different countries, different religions, different ideals, and all with the same purpose. Our journey with your family served a purpose greater than all of us. Tripp had the power to bring millions together. He made us all better.”
For more of our in-depth coverage on Tripp Halstead:
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