EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 10, 2013

Kindness lifts mother's spirits

Bench dedicated to memory of child is returned to pond site

By Mike LaBella

---- — HAVERHILL — After vandals damaged a granite bench dedicated years ago in memory of her son, a saddened Kimberly Comeau kept asking herself one question: “Why would someone do this?”

She never got an answer, but now that doesn’t seem to matter as much.

Because of the kindness and generosity of others, the bench that was inscribed with the name of her 10-year-old son, Justin Thurlo, is back whole in its rightful place at the edge of Round Pond.

For Kimberly Comeau, when she returns to this special spot to look out at the water and remember her son, she will also remember those who came forward to erase the damages caused by a senseless act.

“It was heartbreaking to see the pictures of Justin’s bench in the water,” Comeau said after vandals threw it into Round Pond this summer and broke it.

Her spirits have since been lifted.

“The bench is beautiful and it’s where it’s supposed to be for all those to visit and remember Justin... a precious child who was taken from us too early,” she said. “I am beyond grateful that people like Dave LaBrode and Rick Atwood stepped up and made this all happen. It just goes to show that there are good people out there willing to help.”

The bench was placed in a small park at the edge of the pond about a year after Justin’s death. The Pentucket Lake School fifth-grader was killed in May 2000 in an accident in Kingston, N.H., where his family had moved a few months earlier.

About a year after the boy’s death, Flo Hennessey, the mother of one of Justin’s best friends, donated the bench as a gift from her family. Others donated to the cause as well. The bench was placed along the Lawrence Street side of the pond in the Alfred DiBartolomeo Memorial Park, which is named for a late city public works official.

Since that time, Comeau has stopped by the little park to sit on the bench and think of her son.

”I work in North Andover and sometimes I visit his grave at the Ridgewood Cemetery and have lunch,” she said. “But when I’m out and about and have a feeling, it’s also nice to visit his bench.”

On July 26 of this year, LaBrode, who is a Haverhill Brightside organization volunteer, was checking on the park’s two wooden benches, which he had refurbished with help from a friend, when he noticed things were out of place. The granite bench bearing Justin’s name was missing and the two wooden benches had been moved. LaBrode found the granite bench in the water. Both legs were broken off.

LaBrode was outraged and notified several city officials by email.

He soon began receiving offers of help from people who wanted to donate money to have the bench fixed or replaced.

“I knew decent folks would step up,” LaBrode said.

Comeau heard about LaBrode’s discovery and could not understand why anyone would damage her son’s bench.

”You always question why, but you don’t always get an answer,” Comeau said.

“It was like having my heart ripped out again,” she said. “It’s not that you ever heal, but I learned to live life without Justin.”

She said a co-worker told her he knew Dave LaBrode as they run together.

“I contacted Dave and I felt so much better after talking to him,” Comeau said. “He was adamant that it would be repaired or replaced. I told him to let me know what I can do, and he said not to worry about anything.”

Comeau’s friends, family and co-workers were there to support her as well.

Vincent Ouellette, director of human services for the city, arranged for the Public Works Department to remove the bench from the water. They delivered it to Atwood Memorial Company in Bradford after Rick Atwood said he would fix the bench at no cost.

“I thought that being in this business, it was something I could help them with,” Atwood told The Eagle-Tribune.

Atwood’s shop completed the repairs several weeks ago and the bench was returned to the park at the edge of Round Pond.

While Comeau was visiting the bench along with an Eagle-Tribune photographer, a woman stopped by with her daughter and asked if they were doing a photo shoot for online dating.

“It made me laugh, then we told her about the story of the bench,” Comeau said. “She said every time she comes by she’ll say a prayer for Justin.”

Comeau says she will never stop visiting the little park to sit on the bench and think about the son she lost.

“I have sons who are 12 and 19 and someday they can wheel me there,” she said.