BEXLEY, Ohio (WCMH) — Community members in Bexley are not letting damage from a fire take away the special meaning behind a couple of trees.
Over the weekend in south Bexley, downed power lines and a truck caught fire. The flames burned some bushes and a couple of trees. Those trees had been planted as a memorial for Justin Haas, a 13-year-old who died in an accident in 1991.
“As heartbroken as we are now, we are also very lucky because we had him,” said Polly Hass, Justin’s mother.
Haas described her son as a giver and a helper who was passionate about feeding the hungry, even at a young age. She said he was always happy and spread that happiness to others.
The trees have become a symbol of positivity and the great things Justin brought to the world. Neighbors and the Haas family want to make sure the trees don’t lose their significance after the fire.
“The idea of, ‘Let’s come up with some way to kind of honor Justin,’ and the easiest way and the one that made the most sense was having people do it on their own individually, kind of giving back,” said Katherine Yoder, a neighbor of the Haas’s.
Yoder was also a childhood friend of Justin’s. After the fire, she began encouraging community members to carry out acts of kindness in honor of Justin and bring more positivity back to the area around the trees.
“It just really signified, at least to me, that this was an opportunity to come back full circle and to really use something that left a very visual piece of damage, and kind of transform that into something that was more like growth and rebirth,” she said.
One of the trees has been wrapped in purple yarn. Children drew on the sidewalk with chalk. Other neighbors hung hearts from the tree.
Haas said it’s heartwarming to see what’s gone on.
“I’m sure he’s proud of this, this is making him very happy,” she said. “A lot of what he stands for is love now, don’t put it off. This is the one chance we have.”
Justin loved everyone, his mother said. The family and friends are considering starting a community fund in his name for issues they are passionate about, one being anti-racism efforts. They hope it’s a way for what’s happened to have an impact beyond their block.