Six-year-old Eric Lawson of Maryland youngest of 3 storm victims in D.C. area

By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 27, 2010; A01

Eric Lawson spent Sunday afternoon at the Claude Moore Recreation Center in Sterling, clambering happily up and down the rock climbing wall. When the 6-year-old and his family emerged about 3 p.m. for a short walk home, the sky was just turning gray.

"We were going to have to hurry back because it was going to storm in a few minutes," Eric's father, Matthew, a software developer, recalled Monday. "So we started walking fifty feet, and it started sprinkling."

Eric and his older brother Andrew, 9, began running through the woods, laughing and even cheering a little bit, Lawson recalled, as he brought up the rear. They were going to get wet. That was all. It was a short run to their house where they could hunker down, play games and wait out the rain.

But then the unthinkable happened. The sudden, violent wind sheared a 30-foot tree limb along the path nearly in half. Matthew Lawson heard the crack, saw the branch begin to fall and called out to his son.

"He was just barreling down the way. He didn't notice it. He didn't see it. It fell in about a second," Lawson said. "I was able to yell, 'Stop, Eric! Stop, Eric!' He didn't stop, and I couldn't get to him. I saw it fall on him."

Now the rain was falling in sheets. Lawson reached his son, lifting the heavy branch off his small body. He gathered him up and began carrying him back to the recreation center for help.

"He was in very bad shape," Lawson said through tears. "We are a Christian family, so I said, 'Go to Jesus.' " Eric's body slackened after that, Lawson said. His son died in his arms, the horrible heavy rain still pouring over both of them.

The summer storm that swept through the region Sunday left chaos in its wake -- and three dead. Along with Eric, there was Warren D. Smith, a 63-year-old jet skier from Annapolis who died near the Bay Bridge after his craft was swamped by six-foot-tall waves; and Michelle Humanick, 44, who died when her minivan was crushed by a tree in College Park.

On Monday, Lawson, 30, and other family members said they were still in shock over the loss of the little boy, who lived during the school year with his mother and stepfather -- Elizabeth and James Vickers -- and two younger step-brothers on a farm in Middletown, Md.

Eric, who would have been a first-grader at Myersville Elementary School in the fall, spent time caring for the chickens and cows on the family's 106-acre farm, his mother said. He loved sports and played basketball and T-ball in the local youth sports association. He couldn't wait for the first practice of flag football on Tuesday.

Sometimes her energetic child would create costumes, tying a belt around his waist and pretending to be a ninja. But he was gentle with his two younger step-brothers, said Vickers, 29.

"He was so caring and a free spirit and just adorable," his mother said. "I'm completely in shock. It's like out of a horror movie."

She said she thought when she laid down to sleep Sunday night that she would wake up and it all would have been a bad dream.

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