Sadie Grace Andrews, a 3-year-old Christian girl who loved to pray and regularly attended the popular Church of the Highlands with her family, tragically drowned Saturday after she fell into a grease pit while playing at a local ice cream shop in Alabama.
"She had more faith than any child I've ever seen — and I'm not just saying that because she was my child," the girl's mother, Corrie Andrews, who had six children in total with her husband, Tracy, told AL.com. "She would come sit on my lap and sing 'Be Still My Soul.' Her favorite song was 'Jesus Loves Me.'"
"Her name means 'God's thoughtful princess,'" Corrie continued as she wept. "And she really was that ... always expressing gratefulness and love for God and other people. She would light up a room with her smile; she walked with a skip in her step. I've never met a more joyful child who loved God with all her heart."
Local police who have ruled the child's death an accident told AL.com that video evidence shows the little girl, Sadie Grace Andrews, playing with two of her siblings at Bruster's Real Ice Cream on East University Drive, when she fell through a lid covering a six-foot deep grease pit on the property.
Along with her parents, Sadie leaves behind five siblings — Sabrina, 7; Piper, 6; Cason, 4; and twins Ryder and Judson, who will turn 2 next month.
Sadie's grieving maternal uncle, Chad Vermillion, noted on a YouCaring campaign on Sunday that the death of his niece was "a big loss."
"Sadie was my personal joy and we had the most special relationship in the world. This is a big loss but I am thanking the creator for his genius and creativity in making such a distinct, joyful soul full of so much life. She added so much to my life," Vermillion wrote.
Exclusive Op-eds from the Presidential Campaigns
Sadie's siblings, he said, had also been hit particularly hard by her death.
"Cason is internalizing grief, didn't eat, and threw up. Sabrina and Piper are asking lots of questions. Piper wanted to know what they would do with Sadie's things, like her blanket which she had to have every day. But miraculously, God began to prepare Corrie this morning," he said.
"Sadie put her blankie in a plastic bag and told Corrie that she was going to give it away. When Corrie asked why, she said that she was a big girl. Corrie clarified, 'so you don't need it anymore?' Sadie said, 'No,'" he wrote.
He explained that the family spent 45 minutes trying to find Sadie when they first realized she was missing. Corrie, he said, told him that the ice cream shop has an outdoor picnic table near a large sewer opening covered by a wooden top.
"The wooden top turned out to be rotten; Sadie fell thru; that's why it took 45 min. to find her. Coroner's office was going to do an autopsy, but Tracy intervened; police had video evidence that it was an accident," he explained.
He noted, however, that the ice cream shop could be open to a negligence charge.
"Owner of the store may be in trouble for negligence. Owner's wife asked police when they were going to 'get this all cleaned up so we can reopen for business,'" he wrote, criticizing the callous reaction of the owners.
Late Sunday night, however, the owners of the icencream shop, Lance and Kara Latham, released a statement, calling the family "acquaintances of ours" and said they were "heartbroken" about Sadie's death.
"As the owner of the Auburn Bruster's, our deepest condolences go to the family of the child who tragically died Saturday. They are acquaintances of ours and have been regular customers. We are truly heartbroken that this happened," the couple wrote.
"Our thoughts also are with our young crewmember who tried to revive the child. Like all of us, he is quite shaken. The entire Bruster's family is horribly saddened by this tragic accident. We continue to help local authorities investigate what caused this incredibly sad accident. We hope everyone in the community also will keep the family in their thoughts and prayers," they added.
Despite his grief, Tracy Andrews said he was happy for his daughter's life because Sadie taught him to be happy and loving.
"I'm just so thankful for the three years we had with her," he said. "She taught me about being happy and loving life and loving people. At 3 years old, there's no preconceived notions. To her, everybody was good. She didn't see the bad. She just loved people and it didn't matter what they did."
Vermillion, who is a father of four, opined that "a mother and dad should never have to bury their child." He urged others to forgive and show love as life has proven to be too short and too fleeting to keep a grudge.
"Life is way too short to hold onto grudges or things you might be harboring against anybody else," he warned. "You don't know how much time you have with the people you love."