‘He Was A Sweetie’
4-Year-Old Remembered After Tragic Drowning Accident
Nicole and Jeffery Barr were about a month away from welcoming the newest member of their family when the clan went camping in August 2019.
As the story sometimes goes, fate had other plans.
“We went out to our campsite and I’m calling my sister at 4:45 in the morning saying, ‘I’m in labor. What do I do?'” Nicole Barr said of the chaotic morning she delivered her son, Raylan, in the family’s camper.
Raylan’s early arrival, his relatives note, certainly matched his personality — an eager, outgoing child full of curiosity.
“He was always wanting to show you every single thing he did,” his mom said. “He just was always happy about everything — not afraid of anybody, just always wanting to be with everybody.”
Raylan died Sept. 6 following a pool accident in Lakewood. He was 4 years old.
To many, Raylan was known as “Sweet Face” — a nickname born from his jubilant nature. He was often seen with his favorite blue and green blankets. “He had one with him at all times, accompanied by a thumb in his mouth,” Barr said.
She said her son liked to tell other kids at pre-K that he got his shock of orange hair from eating carrots. “He legit thought that his hair was orange because he ate carrots, not because of his mom and dad’s genes,” she said.
Sandy Arndt recalled attending her nephew’s most recent birthday, in which the joyous boy expected a kiss from everyone as they left.
“I gave him a kiss on his cheek, and he would not let me go until I kissed him on his lips,” Arndt said. “Finally, I gave him a kiss on his lips and he let me leave.”
“He was called ‘sweet face’ for a reason,” Barr told The Post-Journal. “He was a sweetie all the time.”
Raylan was found unconscious in a family member’s pool during a Labor Day gathering. He was rushed to UPMC Chautauqua and, once stable, moved to Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo.
After two days of monitoring, Nicole and Jeffery Barr were told Raylan had no brain activity.
“Normally, he was very, very good about wearing his floaties,” Barr said. “So I assume he thought he still had them on. He was done eating dinner and just got right back in the pool. That’s what we’re kind of assuming happened because normally he wouldn’t go anywhere without them.”
The couple made the decision to donate their son’s organs. His heart went to a 1-year-old living in New York City; his liver went to another 1-year-old, this one living in Boston; and both kidneys were donated to different people.
“You definitely don’t prepare for it,” said Barr, who acknowledged feeling some peace knowing that her son’s donations likely helped save the lives of four strangers.
“I’m an organ donor,” she said. “I want to help people once I’m gone, too. All of his organs were fine, and there were people out there in need.”
Shortly after Raylan’s passing, the Raylan Barr Water Safety Accessibility Fund was established through the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation. The Barrs hope to prevent another tragedy and raise pool safety awareness by helping families pay for proper swim lessons.
Arndt played a big role in getting the fund set up with the community foundation.
“In the middle of all this, you just think what you can do,” she said. “Where’s the need at? What can we do for the community? What can we do that this isn’t going to happen to another family?”
The family is looking to partner with Hillary McCandless of Chautauqua Infant Swimming Resource. McCandless provides survival swimming lessons for infants and young children.
A GoFundMe drive (https://gofund.me/bb3bc7e9 ) already has raised more than $14,000.
Raylan was survived by his parents; four siblings, Jaxson, Kendall, Cooper and Jeffery III; grandparents, Jeffrey and Pam Barr, Todd (Laura) Gilbert, and Diane Provorse; aunts and uncles, Amber and Brittni Barr, Sandy and Steve Arndt, Bonnie Curcio, Ryan and Katie Curcio, Michaele Marsh, and Jillian Gilbert.
Services were held at the Falconer Funeral Home.