In the days leading up to her senior high school prom in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, Kaylee Suders looked on the day with dread and sadness, as her date wasn’t able to attend. Little did she know, she’d get the surprise of a lifetime.
No Fairytale Evening
There was a simple reason Suders didn’t want to attend her prom. She had lost her boyfriend, Carter Brown, only a month before, and couldn’t face such a happy event without him. Kaylee could never have expected that she was in for a heartwarming surprise.
Before The Turn
Prior to the unexpected loss of her boyfriend, Kaylee Suders had been just as excited about going to prom as the rest of her friends in school. She’d spent weeks shopping for the perfect dress, expecting to feel like a princess in the arms of her prince. Kaylee couldn’t stop remembering the moment when all of those dreams came to a screeching halt. She figured there was absolutely no way she’d handle going to prom without utterly breaking down.
Dropped In Midair
Kaylee had done more than just pick out a perfect dress. She had already brought her dress to a seamstress to be fitted. Kaylee had stood on the pedestal while the seamstress tucked, pinned, and measured to make sure that Kaylee’s dress was a perfect fit on the big day. In Kaylee’s mind, she could easily envision how the fabric would flow, hugging her body without being uncomfortable. After Carter passed, however, she called the seamstress and told her not to bother working on the dress.
The Best Of Friends
Long before Kaylee and Carter became romantic, the two had become fast friends. Their platonic friendship lingered for three years before they finally realized there was something more to their relationship. The two could spend hours driving around in Carter’s car, as they traversed the rural landscape that stretched for miles around their tiny little town. It was clear to others, even in the earliest stages of their relationship, that the two youngsters had something special.
Heading To Tuscarora
Located in the foothills of the Western Appalachian mountains, the borough of Mercersburg effuses a small town charm often only captured in movies. The area is characteristic of the solitude that defines central Pennsylvania, even though the state is most frequently associated with its big cities. Many of the residents of Mercersburg and the surrounding townships in Franklin County still earn their livelihood based on agricultural pursuits. The close-knit community was shocked by the tragedies rocking the Brown family.
Everything For Her
When Carter and Kaylee had been dating for nearly a year, she began a campaign to convince him to come with her to prom. Carter had graduated James Buchanan High School almost a year before and was less than enthused about spending an evening amongst high schoolers. Kaylee, however, really wanted to enjoy her senior prom, especially since all of her friends were going. The picture wouldn’t be complete if she didn’t have Carter on her arm.
Lighting Up The Room
Everyone who knew Carter could agree on one thing. He had a generous spirit that seemed to infect everyone he met. “At his service, everyone said the same thing, that he could make you laugh and make you feel good about yourself even if he wasn’t in a good spot. It just shows what kind of person he was,” Kaylee’s mom, Christina Nicholas told Public Opinion. Kaylee knew more than anyone just how special Carter really was.
A Collection Of Friends
Carter Brown had always been a popular figure among James Buchanan High School. “Carter was just one of those people who could walk into a room of strangers and come out with 15 friends,” Suders shared with Today. Many of the memorials posted after his death included descriptions of his inherent charisma, how bright of a smile he always had, and just how funny he could be. “I was really lucky to be his girlfriend,” Suders added.
Written In The Stars
Many parents are less than thrilled to discover that their children are old enough to be interested in dating, but Kaylee’s mom had few doubts when Kaylee and Carter began seeing each other. Their relationship quickly became serious, but neither one was alarming for their families. “There’s that one person that you know was meant to be for you, and that was her’s,” Kaylee’s mom, Christina told Public Opinion. Even at that early stage, the two had been planning for the future.
A Twist Of The Arm
Though Carter had his reservations about returning to James Buchanan High School, it was hard for him to say no to Kaylee. The moment he agreed, she sprang into action, searching for the perfect dress, researching hairstyles, and makeup to wear. She had hoped this would be an incredibly romantic night for the two of them, especially as Carter would soon be heading away for a prestigious externship in Florida, where he would apprentice with a high-end chef for seven months.
Exploring Culinary Tradition
Carter had had a passion for culinary arts from a young age. His father, Robert Brown, shared with Public Opinion that his son became focused on pursuing a career as a chef after he won an award in a cake making competition when he was a pre-teen. Soon after, he launched a cake business alongside his mother, while harboring dreams of training professionally. Carter even knew he could work a local job with a catering company in the area once he finished school.
Not Such A Surprise
With only one month to go before the big day, Carter decided to surprise Kaylee by coming down to Mercersburg for the weekend, even though the end of the semester was fast approaching. Carter was then living at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus, several hours away from his hometown. He planned to leave early in the morning to maximize the time he spent with Kaylee, but a wrench was thrown in his plan.
Late Into The Night
While Carter’s visit itself wasn’t planned well in advance, Kaylee still knew to expect him early in the morning on April 15. According to Public Opinion, Carter had been up late the night before, despite planning to drive more than two hours early the next morning. When Kaylee awoke and Carter hadn’t arrived, she told her mom that she was beginning to worry, but Christina Nicholas tried to soothe her daughter, figuring he was likely stuck in traffic.
No Normal Feeling
Kaylee knew something was wrong. Even if Carter had been stuck in traffic or had been pulled over, there was no way he wouldn’t have arrived by then. When her phone rang, alerting her that Carter’s mom, Kelly, was on the other side, Kaylee’s heart skipped a beat in dread. In a daze, she heard Kelly tell her that Carter wasn’t going to be able to make it, as she had received one of the worst calls a parent could ever receive.
But Not Forgotten
Carter departed from his university early in the morning, determined to spend as much time with Kaylee as possible before he had to return. He was an hour away from Mercersburg when he was involved in a three-car collision. According to reports, his car crossed into oncoming traffic. He hit one car in the back before colliding head-on with another vehicle around 7:30 am. Carter was pronounced dead on the scene. It was almost more than his family and Kaylee could bear.
Piling On Grief
Kaylee’s grief knew no bounds, but the accident was even harder for his parents to handle. Only seven months prior, one of Carter’s older brothers had also passed away from an overdose. The Brown family had been hit hard by the loss of their youngest son as well. Both the Brown family and Kaylee needed to lift their spirits somehow, but after such a devastating loss, it seemed nearly impossible. From the moment she heard Carter was gone, Kaylee couldn’t imagine facing prom.
Keeping Him Close
It was hard for Kaylee to keep pressing on after losing her soulmate. She became an even more permanent fixture in the Brown home, even sleeping in Carter’s room after his loss. Kelly and Robert Brown wanted to do something to cheer everyone up, as hard as the year had been on the family. They got to scheming about possible ways to perhaps alleviate just a little bit of the pain, especially for someone as young and impressionable as Kaylee.
Concocting A Plan
Robert and Kelly spent many evenings talking after Kaylee had gone to sleep. Though they were worn out from all of the grief the year had brought to their family, they wanted to do something to help Kaylee. Shortly after learning of Carter’s death, Kaylee announced that she would no longer be attending prom. The Brown’s were heartbroken to hear that she’d changed her mind after being so excited, which is when Robert came up with an idea.
Setting The Cogs In Motion
Robert’s plan to get Kaylee to prom wouldn’t exactly be straightforward. For starters, he needed to call the school and get permission before he could verify it would work. The school was hesitant to say yes, given the uncommon nature of the query, but given that they knew Robert from his time working as a football coach with the school, the principal was more inclined to agree. Then, it was up to Kaylee.
An Alternative Promposal
Robert figured that even if Carter couldn’t take Kaylee to prom, then someone else in the family should. He knew Kaylee would never accept going with a student, especially not so soon after Carter’s loss. Instead, Robert suggested to his wife that he take Kaylee. He wanted her to have a chance to let go and have a little fun. She had grown particularly close to the family, and Robert thought that she might just be open to going with him.
Popping A Question
“After my son passed — the week after — it was tough,” Brown told Inside Edition. “My wife and I talked and thought maybe it would be a good idea to ask Kaylee to go.” Rob hoped that asking Kaylee to the prom himself would help lift her spirits. With the school’s permission already in hand, the couple decided to approach the teen, whose presence in their late son’s room remained fairly constant over the following weeks. But what would Kaylee say?
Waiting For An Answer
Robert Brown asked Kaylee if she’d be interested in attending the James Buchanan High School prom with him in place of Carter. Brown had already gotten permission to go, despite being far outside of the age range. When he floated the idea by Kaylee, she could only laugh and say, “You’re too old.” When Brown confirmed that he was serious and already got clearance to attend, Kaylee burst into tears, but then said that she would like to attend.
Candy Coated Surprise
“Prom tickets were already due and I didn’t want to go anymore,” Suders explained to InsideEdition.com. “He was like, ‘What if I took you?’ and then he explained what he had already done and there was no way I couldn’t say yes. It was just too sweet.” Kaylee wasn’t quite sure how she’d manage to get everything done in time, but as expected, the thought of having to hurriedly prepare to go to the prom again proved a good distraction for Kaylee.
Finding Fairy Godmother
Prom was fast approaching, and Kaylee suddenly found herself in a mad dash to complete her preparations for prom. She worried the seamstress would no longer have time to finish altering her dress after being told to stop working on it. There were only a couple of weeks to go, and Kaylee had canceled all of her appointments. Little did she know, her close-knit community knew all of the details of her situation, and were ready to step in.
The Work Of Mice
For starters, Kaylee’s dress had unknowingly been completed by the seamstress, even after Kaylee had told her to cancel her alterations. The seamstress knew about Carter’s loss and hoped that Kaylee might decide to go to in the end. When Kaylee called her up to see if there was a chance she’d be able to finish working on the dress before prom, after all, the seamstress told her the good news. Then it all came down to hair and makeup.
Kaylee’s friends were ready to be put to work when prom night finally rolled around. While some of her friends took charge of doing her hair, another was happy to get to work doing Kaylee’s make up. No one wanted her to feel like she was missing out, or that her prom experience was incomplete just because she wouldn’t be with Carter. To top it off, Robert had a few more surprises up his sleeve to make the night extra special.
Reliving The Past
Just as her friends had done before leaving their homes, Kaylee was encouraged to make a grand entrance on the Brown’s staircase, as she descended in front of everyone fully done up. Kaylee certainly looked like a princess. As Robert waited for her at the door, Kaylee said she felt like a princess too. Before hitting the school dance, Robert took pictures with Kaylee, including some with a picture of Carter that had been blown up specifically for the photos.
First Date Redux
When they’d finished taking their prom pictures, Robert escorted Kaylee to the TGI Fridays branch where she’d gone with Carter for their first date. “I was excited about getting ready, but every now and then I was thinking about how Carter was supposed to be there,” she told Today. “I know he was watching over us and probably smiling ear to ear at the fact that his dad went with me.” For Robert, it was important for Kaylee to feel the evening was all about her.
Going The Extra Mile
There was one last touch that Rob made sure to include in his plans for Kaylee’s evening. The two did a little bit of clean up on Carter’s Audi sportscar, one of his greatest pleasures. Rather than arriving in a limo, it seemed fitting for the pair to drive Carter’s car to dinner and then to the prom. Given its inherent prestige, it just added to the whole mood of the evening, as they both celebrated Carter and mourned his loss.
Making An Entrance
When Kaylee and Rob arrived to the prom, the other students welcomed them with fanfare. Robert did his best to fit in with the rest of the high schoolers, focusing his attention on Kaylee having as good a time as possible. It was the first time for both them that they’d laughed so much in the weeks since Carter’s death. Both the Browns and Kaylee took solace in the evening. “I know it would have made Carter happy that I still went,” Kaylee concluded.
“I was just amazed at just how awesome that was that he went on his own and filled Carter’s spot for the night,” Suders shared with Inside Edition. “The dance was fun. Seeing a 50-year-old dance like that was pretty funny,” she confessed. While Rob was cutting a jig on the dancefloor, it seems both forgot their pain, even if it was only for a brief moment. “It was fun and we both really had a good time,” Rob reflected.
Despite the fun that Kaylee and Rob had, there were still moments where the two would get “choked up.” Afterall, they were dedicating the evening to Carter’s memory, and no amount of fun would erase the loss. “It takes a special kind of person to step up, especially when they’re hurting and going through stuff too. It’s nice he took the initiative to ask her and have a good time,” Nicholas recalled about Rob’s generous gesture for her daughter.
Looking To The Future
“We have four sons, and we lost our second oldest, Christopher, seven months before we lost Carter,” Brown revealed to Center Daily Times. “Life will have all kinds of curve balls that you can’t control. You have to have strength and courage to move forward. We lost two of our children. Our circumstance happened that way. You just learn to be able to go on and live for and care for everyone you still have with you.”
Telling Their Story
“It’s a great story,” Suders shared with Center Daily Times. “It is great that it’s getting out. It’s not the way I’d want to be known. It’s a tragedy, but I’m glad people want to know about it and feel emotion toward it. I’m glad they’re getting to know our story.” Like anyone else, Kaylee would rather still have Carter in her life, but there was something special in knowing that Rob’s gesture not only lifted her spirits momentarily but cemented Carter’s legacy.
Put It In The Books
As time wore on and Kaylee and Carter’s story spread, Kaylee took to her Instagram account to reflect on the experience of the past few months. “I knew somehow, our love story would go down in history. It was too great not to. This isn’t how I expected it to happen, but I know you’re smiling ear to ear. I love you so much. And Rob, thank you so much for making my senior prom as great as it could have been.”
To Every Corner Of The Eart
Kaylee continued in her post, marveling at how fast and far the story spread,”It’s so crazy that something that was so sentimental to me, and happened in small town Mercersburg is now getting told in Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Canada, etc. I can’t even wrap my head around that. But the story deserves to be told. It weighs out some of the bad in the world. I’m so grateful for the Brown family, I love you all.”
Slow To Heal
Despite the excitement that prom brought to Kaylee’s life, nothing could supplant the grief, except for time. Though she graduated high school several weeks after her prom, Kaylee still felt the profound loss in her life. She has continued to share some of the struggles she’s had with grief on her social media accounts, while also recognizing that the only thing that will truly help is time. Either way, she can’t get over the support the Brown family has continued to show her.