Like many military families who have come before them, Ben and Kassandra Benton packed up their home and two daughters, Charlotte and Amelia, to begin a new chapter at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
The family of four had stopped for the night to rest at a La Quinta Inn in Covington, Georgia. While they slept, their U-Haul with all of their possessions inside was stolen. In addition to their furniture and clothing, there was also an urn containing the ashes of their late 6-month-old son, Wyatt.
“I went outside around 7 or 8 that morning and was on the phone with one of my good buddies,” Ben Benton told TODAY Parents. “I looked up and was like ‘the U-Haul - where is it? Oh my god, the U-Haul is gone.’”
Kassandra Benton told TODAY Parents that before she had Wyatt in 2015, she had believed she could never have children due to radiation and chemotherapy for cancer treatment. She discovered she was pregnant with Wyatt at 14 weeks after a trip to the hospital.
“I went to the hospital not feeling well and found out I was pregnant. It was crazy," she said. "I ended up having him early at 24 weeks at home. My husband delivered him. I ended up hemorrhaging and he wasn’t breathing on his own. He fought for his life in the NICU for five months until he got a brain infection. We ended up taking him to hospice where he passed away.”
Upon realization their U-Haul was missing, the Bentons called 911 and filed a police report.
“It didn’t hit me that our stuff was gone, it hit me that our son’s ashes were in there,” Kassandra said. “That was the first thing I realized - Wyatt was gone.”
In addition to Wyatt’s ashes, the Bentons' U-Haul contained cherished mementos of their son’s short life.
“His handprints that we had were in there, his footprints. We had a molding of his hand,” the grieving mom shared. “We had just everything you could get from a baby that you’re losing to have memories of him that you can keep. It was all in there.”
Thursday morning, the U-Haul was found 30 minutes away from the hotel.
“There was nothing really in there,” Kassandra Benton said. “They went through everything and what they didn’t want. When I say 'what they didn’t want,' — it was a couple black bags with clothes in them.”
Friends and neighbors at the Benton family’s new duty station in Louisiana have stepped up to help the grieving family with a GoFundMe and a reward is being offered by Covington Police for information leading to an arrest in this case. Anyone with information can call Covington Police Department at 770-385-2122.
“I’m mourning as if I just lost him,” Kassandra Benton said. “I just beg whoever took him to have a heart. Imagine it being their own kid or family member that they love and think about how they would feel. Please just return him. We don’t even care if they drop him somewhere that someone would recognize and let us have him back. It feels like we are losing him all over again.”