On March 22, 2011, Senior Police Officer Buddy Christian was shot and killed while responding to an attack on a fellow officer. The 34-year-old Georgia cop left behind a wife, Melissa, daughter, Callie, and son, Wyatt.
To honor his father’s legacy, Wyatt celebrated his eighth birthday this October with a special remembrance photo shoot.
Photographer Mary Lee took pictures of Wyatt with some of his father’s belongings, like his badge, hat and boots ― as well as the folded American flag the family received at Buddy’s funeral.
Melissa told The Huffington Post that remembrance photo shoots have become a tradition in her family. “When Buddy was killed it was very hard to have family pictures and birthday pictures done without him in them,” she said. So, during their first family photo session after Buddy’s death, they posed with the folded flag and a photo of him in uniform.
“We took some pics without them and some with,” she said. “It was a great way to include him in our pictures the best we could.” The Christians continued incorporating these items in holiday photos and annual shoots for Callie’s and Wyatt’s birthdays.
Wyatt and Callie have also taken pictures wearing kid-sized versions of their dad’s police uniform, which they had made for their first trip to Washington, D.C. when Buddy’s name was added to the National Police Memorial Wall in May 2012.
And on special occasions, they release balloons to the sky to “send them to Buddy.” They sometimes attach little notes to their dad. This tradition is one of the kids’ favorites, so Lee photographed balloon releases for Callie’s and Wyatt’s birthdays as well.
“It is my hope that they can look back on this pictures one day and see that their dad may not have been visible to them, but he was always with them,” Melissa told HuffPost. “He didn’t mean to go away. It was not his choice. It was taken from him. And, we must live for him and take nothing for granted. No one is guaranteed tomorrow.”
Melissa said Wyatt loves his remembrance photos and honoring his dad’s legacy. “I have kept all of Buddy’s hats, belt’s and ties, and Wyatt keeps them in his room,” she said. “He likes wearing his ball caps from time to time.”
The Christians also refer to Melissa’s office as “Daddy’s room” because it’s where they keep all of Buddy’s medals, awards and other personal items. The kids like to look at and touch all these items.
“We talk of their dad often, and they are very proud of him,” said Melissa. “They know that he is a hero and was serving our community. They know he loved Ford trucks, John Deere tractors, Honda motorcycles, the color red.”
She added, “I try to make sure they know and remember him as much as they can. But, there is fine line of talking about and remembering him just enough that they are happy in their memories but not sad. It is hard to balance this, but we do the best we can.”
Melissa describes Wyatt as smart, loving, compassionate and witty. “He reminds me daily of his father,” she said. “He has his caring soul and wants to make others smile and laugh.”
The mom added that her son looks a lot like Buddy and often smiles or stands like him. “Buddy loved being a dad,” she continued. “Wyatt’s favorite memory is of Buddy pushing him in the swing. He still loves to swing, and says he feels close to his daddy when he is swinging. He dreamed of all the things he and his kids would do.”
Thinking about all the things Buddy has missed in his children’s lives is a painful exercise for Melissa. “Sometimes I even feel guilty because I get to enjoy these things with them and he does not, but I know he is very proud of Wyatt and what a great young man he is becoming,” she said, adding that her husband’s legacy will live on through his children and grandchildren some day.
The family also honors his legacy through the Buddy Christian Foundation, which they created with the mission to protect law enforcement officers by enhancing safety and serving others who have lost family members on duty.
“This is our way of making something good out of something bad,” Melissa said. “We never want people to forget Buddy and the sacrifice he made serving his community.”
As her children get older, the mom hopes they will keep the foundation and Buddy’s memory alive. They already enjoy being involved with fundraisers and events.
Photographer Mary Lee told HuffPost she was touched by the Christians’ story. “I want others to understand the importance of the pain and hurt that is left behind for the children and families of these officers,” she said.
As for Melissa, she wants the photos to inspire others. “I hope when people look at these photos they see a boy who loves life, yes he lost his father when he was very young, but he is not bitter ― he is wrapped in love,” she said. “I hope they see a boy whose father is gone from the visible eye but he carries the love of his father in his heart always.”
Though it has been unspeakably difficult to live life without Buddy, Melissa said she knows that’s what he would’ve wanted. “We must carry on for him,” she said. “We have not moved on we are simply moving forward and adding chapters to our book.”
Ultimately, Melissa wants to offer this advice to other parents: “Live each day like it might be your last. Take nothing for granted. Kiss your spouse and kiddos every day and tell them how much you love them. You never know when you might have said your last ‘I love you.’”
Continue scrolling to see more of Wyatt’s powerful emotional photos.