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Boy who lost his parents gets thousands of rainbows from strangers

Thousands of people from around the world are sending photos of rainbows to cheer a 9-year-old boy with autism who lost both of his parents.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Rainbow-hued love and support is pouring in from all over the world to cheer up a 9-year-old boy whose parents died three weeks apart in May.

Robbie Ecuyer, who has autism, was told his parents had “gone over the rainbow bridge” to heaven. During a few rainbow-filled weeks in May and June, he would look skyward and stare at the colorful displays, seeing them as a sign of his parents. Then, a day came last month when there was a sprinkle and he waited for the rainbow, but one never appeared.

“He came running out the door and when he didn’t see the rainbow, he was hurt and you could see the pain in his eyes,” Robbie’s aunt, Crystal Skawinski, who became his legal guardian in late May, told TODAY. “I figured, well, maybe if I ask my friends, they’ll send me some rainbows.”

Robbie Ecuyer in the rain, waiting to see a rainbow.Crystal Skawinski

Skawinski, whose sister was Robbie’s mom, asked for photos of rainbows the next day in a July 24 Facebook post. The post, which included #rainbowsforrobbie, spread, and nearly 10,000 photos of rainbows — along with many messages of support — came in from around the globe.

“The response has been absolutely amazing, and it’s really touched our hearts that so many people reached out to Robbie,” said Skawinski, 37, of Cohoes, New York. “I feel like in one month Robbie lost his whole world and the next month, the whole world showed Robbie how much they loved him.”

Skawinski doesn’t typically know what Robbie is thinking because he doesn’t often express his feelings verbally. Robbie mentions his parents often, but only in a singular way.

“What he says is always the same thing and it’s a statement,” Skawinski said. “It’s that ‘My Mommy and my Daddy went to heaven and they’re over the rainbow bridge.’”

Robbie’s mom, Shelly Ecuyer, had been chronically ill with cystic fibrosis and other ailments all of Robbie’s life. His dad, Robert, prepared him for the eventual loss of his mom by saying she would go over the rainbow bridge to heaven, Skawinski said.

The rainbow bridge comes from the adventures in the only television show Robbie watches, “Dora the Explorer,” she said, and his dad knew his son would understand.

“It’s how Robbie communicates,” Skawinski said. “When he wants to tell you something, he’ll tell you how Dora would tell Diego or Boots.”

On the day that his mom died, May 2, a rainbow appeared over Robbie's school, and he was excited, Skawinski said. “It was almost as if (Shelly) was saying, ‘Here I am and I’ll always be here.’”

When Robbie’s dad died unexpectedly on May 24, Skawinski told her nephew that his dad, too, had gone over the rainbow bridge.

Now, Robbie looks to the sky for rainbows. “I think they make him happy, but I think he’s more fixated when he sees them,” Skawinski said.

Robbie Ecuyer looking at a rainbow in June, the month after both of his parents died.Crystal Skawinski

To Robbie, perhaps the rainbows are a sign “that his parents are there, that they came to see him,” Skawinski says, adding that he was well loved by them both.

The photos sent by thousands of strangers have helped cheer up and comfort Robbie. He doesn’t say anything when he looks at them on her phone, but Skawinski can tell if he’s happy or sad by his facial expressions.

Of the thousands of rainbow photos sent to Crystal Skawinski for her nephew, this stunner is among their favorites.Courtesy of Crystal Skawinski

“When he sees them his whole demeanor changes,” she said. “He gets happy and he gets a little excited. Robbie tends to flap (his hands) when he’s excited, so that’s how we know.”

The outpouring has greatly helped Skawinski cope with her own grief.

“It means the world to me,” she said. “It’s amazing that so many people do care.”

Now, Skawinski is raising money online to fund a trip to Walt Disney World to make happy memories for her nephew.

Robbie, his aunt Crystal and her two children, are family now that Robbie has lost his parents.Courtesy Crystal Skawinski

In the two months Robbie has been living with Skawinski and her two children, she’s seen him grow. He loves her family’s pets, his new swingset and going to school, where he’ll soon start fifth grade.

“He’s coming out of the shell,” Skawinski said. “He loves to do things. I see a lot of potential with Robbie doing better going forward.” contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyle reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.