For Los Angeles entertainment reporter Larry Carroll, April 4 was a day he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy. It was the day he woke to find his 2-year-old daughter Savannah had died in her crib.
Before he slept that night, Carroll found a way to wrestle with his sorrow. He took to the Internet to urge other parents to cherish each moment with their kids, and he figured out a way to let some other family indulge their daughter’s every whim, if only for a weekend.
On the night his toddler died (the family is still awaiting explanation for Savannah's mysterious passing from blood tests), Carroll set up Savannah's Stolen Moment Campaign, an online effort to raise $10,000 through Fundly so that another pair of parents can give their little girl whatever outing the child chooses, no holds barred.
“All I wanted to do was show my wife there was a reason to go on, that there was joy in the world and, even in the most brutal moments, the world is still a beautiful place with amazing people,” Carroll told TODAY.com. “There’s far more beauty in the world than sadness and horror like this.”
Carroll, 39, said he always tried to squeeze as much joy as possible from every interaction with the irrepressibly happy, blue-eyed daughter whom they had nicknamed Savvy. That could mean sneaking in a trip to a playground, throwing coins into a fountain, or splitting a huge chocolate cookie with his little girl. He took to calling those encounters “stolen moments.”
The cause of Savannah’s death remains unknown. The night before she died, the Carrolls had taken her and their son, who is five, to a Thai restaurant where the proprietors let Savannah bang on a gong with joyous abandon. She seemed fine.
“I'm feeling very powerless right now,” Carroll wrote on the campaign's site. “The only way I can handle this powerlessness, I figure, is with the power to give someone else joy.”
The idea struck a chord. By morning, thousands of dollars in donations had poured in from friends, family, and total strangers. To date, the fund has garnered more than $33,000.
“I thought, even in my wildest dreams, even Kim Kardashian couldn’t drop 10 grand on a kid,” Carroll said. “It took four days to blow past 10 grand.”
All donations past $10,000 will go toward a college fund for the chosen girl, Carroll said.
The recipients of this gift have not yet been selected. On the website, Carroll set up three rules he and his wife Carrie will use to pick the lucky family. The parents of a little girl have to be unknown to the Carrolls. They have to clearly love their child, and they must be unable to afford such an extravagance themselves.
The girl doesn’t have to be sick. Savvy showed no signs of illness on the day before she died. The point, Carroll said, is that we have no idea how long children will be with us, and we need to appreciate all the time we get.
When the grieving couple is able to cope, perhaps by the end of summer, Carroll said, they will travel to a distant locale and look for the family they want to help with this gift.
“We’re going to sit in a mall, a coffee shop, a restaurant or playground watch people a little while until we find a girl that reminds us of Savannah,” Carroll said. “She’ll be 7 or 8 or 9 years old. Either I, or my wife, will explain to them about what happened to Savannah, and hopefully they’ll take us up on our offer.”
Carroll imagines a few parents will think the offer is a sham and will turn it down.
He half assumes most girls would want a trip to Disneyland, but she will be free to ask for anything.
“If she’s old enough to say she wants to see Paris and the Eiffel Tower, we’ll buy the tickets,” Carroll said.
He envisions having a limo with the little girl’s name on the door arrive to take the family to the airport.
“I’m going to tell them to let her play with the windows, open up the sunroof,” Carroll said. “If she breaks the limo window, let her. I’ll pay for it. Have a blast.”
His only request is that the parents meet afterwards with him and his family to share stories and pictures of their adventure.
“Let us live vicariously through their joy and know that if Savannah had lived to that age, maybe we would have had that moment with her,” the father said. “I stole a lot of moments with my daughter, but if she had lived, I’d be stealing more and more and more till the day I died. I’m trying to concentrate on the 28 months of wonderful times I had with her.”
Carrie Carroll, 36, is 8 ½ months pregnant with the couple’s third child. It’s a time that should be full of hope for this family, but, given the uncertainty over what happened to Savvy, their days are fraught with worry.
Larry Carroll said the fundraiser is his attempt to remain hopeful in the face of their tragedy.
He said people all over the country have been tagging him on Facebook or using his Twitter handle @larrycarroll, to share with him their photos and accounts of special times with their children. They use the hashtag #StolenMoments.
Carroll said the notifications popping up on his cell phone are a welcome distraction from his grief. He encourages others to share their #StolenMoments with him.
Every night of Savvy’s short life, her father sang her to sleep with “Swee’Pea’s Lullaby,” a song by Harry Nillson from the movie, “Popeye.”
Carroll has taken to asking friends to post videos of themselves singing the song to their children, and he encourages others to share their versions of the tune.
Carroll also enjoys reading comments that donors leave on the fundraising website. One donor proposed in a comment that little Savannah will be a guardian angel to the little girl who receives the gift. It’s an idea that pleased Carroll.
“Kids are the closest things to angels we see,” Carroll said. “They are innocent and they have no sense of deception. Savannah was 2 ½. She never lied to anyone. She never deceived anyone or knew of any of these things we all get into as we get older.
"To think of her returning as an angel to look over this little girl we haven’t met makes me smile, and smiles are very hard to come by right now.”