He wore No. 14 when he played baseball and basketball for the Boys and Girls Club. Only eight years old and going into fourth grade, he hadn’t really decided on a profession yet, but he thought playing major league baseball “would be awesome,” a family friend said.
So it was fitting that family and friends gathered in the outfield of a baseball field at the Boys and Girls Club of Oak Ridge to remember Brayden Pearson on Friday. They described Brayden as a lively boy with thick, curly hair, and a contagious laugh—”the best laugh ever,” said Tracy Stewart, a member of the close-knit sports family at the club. Brayden loved school, family friend Sara VanLandingham said.
Brayden died Monday, two days after he had trouble while snorkeling near a swimming area at Clark Center Park in south Oak Ridge. He had to be pulled from the lake that Saturday afternoon. Family and friends performed CPR, and 911 was called. The Oak Ridge police and fire departments responded and continued CPR, and Brayden was flown by a Lifestar medical helicopter to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville.
The family said they wanted to continue Brayden’s zest for life by donating his organs to other children who need them. On Friday, VanLandingham, who has been speaking on behalf of the family, said four organs had been successfully removed for donation.
Born in Knoxville, Brayden was a student at Woodland Elementary School in Oak Ridge, and heartbroken teachers, administrators, and classmates attended Friday’s vigil for the “curly angel.”
“My students are my children,” said Gail Fillers, a now-retired third-grade teacher who taught Brayden this past year.
For the children, she said, “This was like losing a brother.”
Melissa Blalock, Woodland assistant principal, said a tree may be planted this fall in honor of Brayden in a memorial section at the school of 450 students.
“He’s just a precious student,” Blalock said. “Anytime you looked at him, he just lit up.”
She said a Brayden Pearson medical fundraiser page has been set up on YouCaring.com, and those who want to help give meals to the family on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays can do so through TakeThemAMeal.com (the password is brayden). Donations can also be made directly to Children’s Hospital in Brayden’s name.
Mark Walton, pastor at Glenwood Baptist Church, said Brayden was part of the Children’s Ministry there. He offered comfort to those who attended Friday’s vigil, saying that Brayden is in Heaven now.
“This is not goodbye, just ‘see you soon,’” Walton said.
VanLandingham said the funeral service is from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sunday at Click Funeral Home at 9020 Middlebrook Pike in Knoxville. A procession will immediately follow. There are bike clubs riding from the funeral home to the burial on Sunday in honor of Brayden, including the Knoxville Chapter of Band of Brothers and Christian Motorcycle Club of America. Brayden will be buried at Highland Memorial on Sutherland Avenue in Knoxville. VanLandingham said the funeral will be open mainly to family and friends.
She said a biker group plans to do an annual ride in Brayden’s name to help Children’s Hospital.
Brayden is survived by his mother, Jessica Pearson, and father, Brock Pearson; an older sister, Sierra, 13; younger brother, Kamden, who is less than one year old; and other relatives.
VanLandingham said the family is grateful to everyone who helped with the rescue effort at Clark Center Park on Saturday, including the Oak Ridge Fire Department, law enforcement officers, and Lifestar.
“Due to the very emotional nature of this incident, the family does not wish to make a public statement at this time,” the Pearsons said through VanLandingham on Wednesday. “However, they would like to thank all of those who have shown such enormous support, the emergency personnel who responded, and the staff of Children’s Hospital.”
Friday’s vigil at the Boys and Girls Club closed with “Amazing Grace,” Bubbles For Brayden—during which family, friends, and classmates blew soap bubbles into the air—and a running of the bases at the baseball field.
Walton said family and friends want to remember Brayden by celebrating his life.