Family of youngest mass shooting victim shares how she became symbol of hope

August 31, 2019 was a day filled with chaos, unimaginable pain, followed by the heavy weight of disbelief and grief – it was a dark day for West Texas.

As events unfolded, word began to spread of the innocent victims; people learning who they were and what had happened to them. In total, seven lives were lost – stolen. Another 21 were injured – forever marked by a moment of evil.

In the midst of the pain shared by a community, a tiny piece of hope came through the youngest victim – a photo of bright-eyed 1-year-old Anderson Davis’ sweet smile began to spread online. Her mother, Kelby, posted an update to friends and family on Facebook. She was going to be okay.

“How resilient toddlers are is a gift that only God could provide,” she wrote in the post. To date, it has been shared over 26,000 times.

“It’s the smile seen around the world,” Kelby says today, now nearly one year later. “We are so blessed and fortunate that our story had a happy ending. We cannot forget the families who lost someone that day, their lives will never be the same.”

The Davis family, like everyone, had been going about their day on Aug 31. Kelby, her husband Garret and their fraternal twins, Anderson and Rhett were on their way to the grocery store.

“We were just sitting in the turning lane on 42nd St. We pulled up like any other stop light, I looked down at my phone and next thing you know, here come the bullets,” Garret said.

17-month-old Anderson was shot. Kelby says the bullets were just inches away from their son, Rhett. Within moments, help was knocking on their car window.

“I just remember looking out the window and seeing who call our heroes, OFR paramedics Brad Reese and Kelen Foreman. They were off duty eating at a restaurant,” Kelby said. “Those two men chose to run into gunfire that day. They ran into the sound and I rolled down my car window to them. They helped walk us through that day and calmed me down so I could be the mother I needed to be for Anderson.”

More help was on the way – OFR Captain Jason Cotton was on duty. Kelby remembers him running through traffic looking to help whoever he could.

“I was running down 42nd St. with Anderson in my arms just yelling for Jason. We needed an ambulance,” she said.

Garret said with the help of Capt. Cotton, an ambulance was flagged down.

“I remember seeing an ambulance passing by, they had just picked up a gentleman who had been shot just down the street from us,” he said. “Jason literally jumped in front of the ambulance and stopped it and threw Kelby, Kelen and Anderson in the back.”

The quick thinking of Reese, Foreman and Cotton saved Anderson’s life.

“The choices they made saved a lot of lives. When they save someone so precious to you and so important to us, I mean, it’s life changing. I know they weren’t able to save everyone and that’s heartbreaking to me. I’m so thankful they worked so hard to do the best they could and to be heroes when we needed them the most,” Kelby said.

Anderson’s injuries required surgery to remove bullet fragments and sew up damage done to her mouth.

Today, Anderson has recovered and is now two years old, full of energy. She and her twin brother celebrated their 2nd birthday in March. The Davis family postponed their party until a few weeks ago due to COVID-19. They celebrated something bigger than a birthday – it was a rainbow after the storm party.

“After everything we had been through, I felt like we needed happiness and we really just needed to celebrate,” Kelby said. “We spent the entire weekend celebrating the twins and honoring the first responders who showed up for us that day.”

They firmly believe the actions first responders, both on and off duty, took that day saved a lot of lives.

“We 100% believe that God had them there that day. We have said time and time again that God did not cause any of the events that happened that day, but he does find ways to work through his people and we strongly believe that he worked through first responders and people of Odessa that day,” Kelby said.

She says God continues to work through Anderson – what a story she has to tell one day.

“I believe she was a symbol of hope in the absolute darkest and worse of times. It was the smile seen around the world. Even though part of her smile had literally been knocked out, she kept smiling,” Kelby said.

The biggest symbol of hope, coming from the youngest survivor. Anderson Davis is living proof that no amount of evil can steal a smile, a person’s joy or perhaps, a community’s strength.