The Grinch tried to steal Christmas in eastern Arkansas this year, but true to the fate of the famous villain from a Dr. Seuss book, he or she failed miserably, thanks to the good-hearted spirit of hundreds of people across the nation.
The main character of this Christmas story is Jayce Collum, an 8-year-old boy who is paralyzed from the abdomen down due to a car accident in 2015. He was eagerly looking forward to a Christmas-season deer hunt in a blind his grandfather, Glenn Shepherd, improvised for him.
The wheelchair-accessible enclosure included a device to help Jayce hold his shotgun steady, a space heater, trail cameras to keep tabs on the deer in the area, lots of hunting clothes and other equipment. But when Jayce returned from the hospital after a rehab stint in December, the family received bad news.
Someone had broken into the padlocked blind on the Shepherds’ family land near Forrest City, Ark., and made off with everything. Even the DeadShot device that was bolted to the floor was gone. But worst of all, the thieves stole a young boy’s spirit.
“I was super disappointed,” said Jayce, who is unable to sit up on his own. “I didn’t see how I was going to be able to hunt.”
His grandfather, Glenn Shepherd, was also disheartened.
“Here I am, trying to give this boy a life, and this happens,” he told me in a telephone interview. “I couldn’t believe someone would be so cruel.
“I was going to see that Jayce got to hunt one way or the other, but I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
The St. Francis (Ark.) County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the incident, but still hasn’t made any arrests.
Here’s where Jayce’s story took an abrupt turn. After an interview with Jayce, his mom, Kristen Shepherd, and his grandfather aired on WREG-TV in Memphis, the story went viral on social media and there was an outpouring of kindness.
Before long, a GoFundMe page was started and several thousands of dollars were donated to the cause. Companies sent Jayce everything from a gun to trail cameras to camouflage clothes to deer calls. A new DeadShot was mailed to the young boy, and a group called Buckmasters of Northwest Arkansas arranged for Jayce to be involved in a hunt in early January. Another organization, American Veteran Outdoors, is raising money to buy Jayce a Track Chair, an all-terrain wheelchair to aid the disabled.
“I cried,” Glenn said of the overwhelming support his grandson received. “It just humbles you.
“People really stepped up to help this child. He’s been through a rough time. He’s been in and out of the hospital ever since the accident in 2015. But he still wants to hunt and fish just like other kids do. And I want to help him do that.
“These people made that easier.”
Jayce’s mother, Kristen Shepherd, also was overwhelmed by the kindness shown toward her son.
“I believe this has been the best Christmas EVER,” she said in a Facebook post. “The love and support to my sweet Red is beyond imaginable.”
Glenn has great memories of a hunt in 2016 when Jayce took his first deer, a 7-point buck, as his grandfather supervised.
It would be nice to relate a happy ending to the story, with Jayce taking a big buck during this year’s Christmas-season hunt, but it wasn’t meant to be. He, his grandpa and his mom got out a couple days during the Dec. 26-28 gun season, but Jayce never was able to fire a shot.
Still, the special experience is one that the Shepherds will never forget.
“There are a lot of good people in this world,” Glenn said. “I’ll never forget what they did for my grandson.”
Meanwhile, Glenn dreams of a day when his grandson will walk again. Jayce’s spinal cord was bruised in the accident, not broken. It will take extensive rehabilitation for him to regain use of his legs, but the family hasn’t ruled that out.
“He’s a special kid,” Glenn said. “He’s still too young to figure out what this all means, but he does realize that a lot of people were very kind to him.”