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tv   Nightline  ABC  May 13, 2022 12:37am-1:06am PDT

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♪ tonight, a grim milestone. america marks an unimaginable moment. 1 million lives lost to covid. families across the country grappling with their new reality. >> it's hard to feel, for like a good 30 seconds i was frozen. numb, yeah. it didn't make sense. how could that happen? you know? >> david muir with some of the 250,000 children feeling the greatest impact. >> you still text him? >> yeah, it's like my way of communicating. it is bittersweet because i know i'm not going to get a reply back. >> the unexpected challenges they face. >> it's been tough. i've been trying to balance being a sister, being a parental figure. >> how's that going?
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>> it's -- it's going. right now it's going. >> now honoring their parents in their daily life. the orphans of covid, america's hidden toll, will be right back. hidden toll, will be right back.
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journey for months now. there have been so many painful milestones. this country now marking 1 million lives lost to covid. while we often hear about the numbers, it is rare we hear about the children who have lost a parent. hundreds of thousands of children here in the u.s. quietly getting up every day, going to school, to work, and setting a powerful, moving example of true strength in this pandemic. 5:30 in the morning. a.j. ariano arrives at school. football practice in honor of his dad. >> i just know that he's watching me. it helps me to play better, you know? >> reporter: 5:45 a.m. trey boroughs is about to leave for work. >> this is actually happening to us. >> reporter: 6:00 a.m., his sister jenny up too. they are now raising their two sisters, hoping to make their mother proud. across this country, the young
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people showing their resilience. kylie coney walking down the hallway in high school. >> everything happened so suddenly and so fast. >> reporter: brother colton with his backpack. life without their dad. cornelia bell getting on the school bus, a first grader, now without her mother and her father. 4-year-old elsie. 2-year-old graham. out the door before the sun comes up. barely old enough to remember their father. for months now, we have witnessed the quiet strength of the children facing a new day without a parent. more than 250,000 children here in the u.s. have lost a parent or primary caregiver in this pandemic. kylie and colton's dad was always so proud. >> all right, colton! >> a big birthday girl! >> reporter: on this day in lyndhurst, new jersey, colton is about to honor his father.
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>> a big game today, are you nervous? >> a little bit. >> your dad was a big hockey guy? >> yeah. >> what's been the hardest part for you? >> not being able to see him every day. like, it was always good waking up and seeing him. >> reporter: his sister kylie down the hall. >> you find yourself still talking to your dad? >> sometimes i'll text him. and i think that that helps me. >> you still text him? >> yeah, it's like my way of communicating. it is bittersweet because i know i'm not going to get a reply back. >> reporter: the sunsets she sends her father. >> what did you say? >> "thank you for the beautiful sky, i miss you." >> did you know your mom has been doing the same thing? >> no, i did not. >> yep. you caught me. >> reporter: a mother in the hallway listening. >> i started sleeping on his side of the bed. because i couldn't bear rolling over at night and seeing that empty spot. in the morning, you know, ready to start the day, do the best that i can as a mom and take care of our kids.
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>> he'd be proud. >> i hope. i hope so. yeah. >> reporter: upstairs, colton getting ready for hockey. his father's rangers hat right there on colton's dresser. and his father's pins, his rings, his father was a marine. >> one of his favorite hats. and then pins and necklaces and rings from the marines. >> i heard you got his flag? >> yeah. >> was that a tough moment? >> yeah, definitely. ♪ >> reporter: we hear about the numbers. rarely do we see the moment a child says good-bye to their parent. >> please accept this flag as a token of appreciation for your loved one's faithful service. >> reporter: colton was just 12. his hand reaching for his father's flag.
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♪ happy birthday ♪ >> reporter: their father, eric coney, died at just 51. he and his wife both had covid. eric died the day they got the call saying the vaccines were now available for them. colton now heads out the door for the hockey game his father would have loved. how are the pregame nerves? >> ltl nervous, all right. >> reporter: his mother on the other side of the fence. in boynton beach, florida, trey boroughs and his siblings starting another day without their mother. >> i wake up at 5:30, take a shower, then hopefully i have a little bit of time to read my bible and eat a bit of food. i'm studying to become a firefighter. >> reporter: cindy dawkins, single mother of four, died from covid. she had been afraid of the
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vaccine. >> once i got the news, which was over the phone, obviously i cried, and i was super sad. and my mind went to my sisters. how are we going to make sure we all stay together? >> found out she had covid one day, the next day, she was gone. >> reporter: jenny and brother trey are now the parents. >> we're making good time this morning. >> reporter: she fixes sierra's makeup. >> perfect. >> reporter: zoe getting ready, too. early on, the harsh new reality. the >> oh, yes. 100%. our biggest thing was trying to keep everybody together. >> then the help from the angels? >> it came, thankfully. >> miss cheney? >> exactly. >> this is the broward receipt. >> oh, right. >> reporter: janie yoshida knew
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these children needed someone. her daughter had been in the school play with trey. >> we have to file a final tax return for your mom. >> you do? >> we do. >> reporter: janie started a gofundme for the children, hoping to keep them together. >> we'll reconvene tomorrow. >> reporter: becoming parents has been difficult. >> i had a hard time admitting that i felt kind of guilty because i felt very -- like, tired, stressed out, just wanting to be by myself sometimes. >> it is okay. >> yeah. >> and who's looking out for you? >> honestly -- it's a lot. >> reporter: in our months following these children, we notice something else. every day, jenny and her mother's necklace. >> i don't feel right not wearing it.
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i've worn it every day since i got it from the hospital. >> she was wearing that when she went to the hospital? >> yeah. yeah. this is the first thing that they handed to me. ever since then, i've had it. >> reporter: every one of these children carries their parent with them. it's 5:00 a.m., and a.j. ariano is up. he knows that's what his father would have wanted. he's off to football practice. >> so it's 5:24 in the morning. >> reporter: his father alan was just 49. he'd had his first shot of the vaccine, he was waiting for his second. part of why you're here is your dad? >> definitely. >> think about him every day? >> every day. especially when i wake up. >> reporter: a.j. remembers when he learned he lost his father. >> our father, who art in heaven -- >> reporter: the first game of the season, a.j. in georgia, his father in the hospital in a
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coma. a.j. had sent him a message. >> hi, daddy, it's me, a.j. tomorrow's my name against benedictine and i'm going to play really good for you, dad, i love you. when i got home from the long bus ride back home from georgia, around 4:00, 5:00 a.m., it hear the news from my mom as soon as i walked through the door. she was crying, she said it to me, i kind of knew -- i gave her a hug, i didn't feel. i didn't feel for a good 30 seconds. it was just like -- like i was frozen, kind of stuck. >> numb. >> numb, yeah. it didn't make sense. like, how could that happen? you know? i just went upstairs and i just remember just crying all night. all night. >> being grateful you had sent that video? >> yeah, definitely. yeah. >> reporter: it's been nine months now without his father. >> before every game, you go to the sideline? >> yeah, right over there. >> what do you do?
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>> well, i say a little prayer and i talk to my dad, just like i would before every game. he'd give me a phone call. i just act like i'm on the same phone call. i just hear him talking back with me. >> you still hear his voice? >> yeah, definitely. >> reporter: mother karen is always there for him and younger brother evan. karen is also there for her husband. >> i feel like now my job is really to live for both of us. because i, too, don't like to miss anything. so i sit here for both of us. i sit here and i watch for both of us. and i cheer for both of us. >> reporter: karen knows she must now get the boys to college. but for now she's just getting through the month. >> this is my reality right now. bills that need to be paid. >> reporter: her husband was a college counselor. karen is a kindergarten teacher.
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now it's her salary alone. >> with my income, after i pay the mortgage, i have $200 left. that doesn't include the water, the electricity, the food. as a teacher, with a teacher's salary -- it's -- it's kind of overwhelming. >> reporter: on the choctaw reservation in mississippi, the scope of the loss is devastating. the little girl who lost both parents. milindie bell raising her 7-year-old niece cordelia. >> where's your jacket and mask? >> reporter: parents craig and mindy bell died three months apart. both getting covid before the vaccines were ready. >> that's milindie in the blue jacket. that's tashta in the black jacket. they're my mama and daddy. but they died. >> reporter: mylindie is about
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to bring her niece to the covid memorial on the reservation. >> look, they made this cross for those that passed from covid. so mamo and your mama, this is in honor of them. >> what's honor mean? >> like honoring people because they've passed. the mississippi band of choctaw indians, dedicated to the lives of those lost to the covid-19 pandemic. be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart. >> reporter: in new jersey, pamela addison, raising elsie and graham alone. husband martin died before the vaccines were available. his last birthday waitith elsie she was turning 2. >> should we finish your birthday cake now? >> yeah. >> oh, nice job, elsie, your cake looks so pretty.
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>> reporter: graham was just 5 months old. >> martin's laying next to him. he says, "i love you." i'm so happy i have that. because -- he didn't get to really hear that often. thatl reae's old enough to unrs >> reporter: as we followed this young family -- >> need a hug? >> uh-huh. >> i love you. >> reporter: we learned elsie's first time saying "i love you" came while in the car, and her mom says she was talking to her dad in heaven. >> that was the first time she ever said, i love you. that was the stage she finally understood what love was, and he missed that. >> reporter: she says her daughter, now 4, is carrying the weight of this. >> she gets sad when people leave. if we have a little gathering, her 3rd birthday, she told me she was sad after. why are you sad? she goes, because everyone left. you know? it's like that abandonment.
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>> are we fully aware of the loss that children have faced? >> i don't think so. i really don't. >> reporter: dr. susan hillis worried about the children. she spent years at the cdc and has now authored the report "the hidden pandemic." there are so many children who start their day without a parent now. breakfast. the walk to the school bus. the school dance. and is there enough being done to make sure that child isn't alone? >> there is not nearly enough being done, and that's why it's so important that all of us begin to ask these questions. in the united states, for every four covid deaths, we have one child left behind, orphaned of their parent or grandparent. >> reporter: pamela has now started a facebook group for other parents who are now raising their children alone. 980 mothers joining already. elsie is now about to turn 4.
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she remembers the sprinkles with her father. >> she definitely knows that this is the time where papa disappeared. so i just try to, you know, keep a happy face. you know, obviously he's in our hearts, and on our minds. she came up with this theme herself, and i know it's honoring him. >> reporter: as we document these families, the turning points. >> feeling so excited. >> reporter: what's about to happen to this family when we come back. ♪♪ in the future we'll travel to incredible places with the help of magical technology. but what about today? i want my magical future now. ♪♪ i have places to go. ♪♪ rocks to climb. ♪♪ sights to see. and flights to catch... i can't wait for what tomorrow will bring, but in the meantime, let's enjoy the ride... ♪♪
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yoshida, on gofundme, they are now about to move into their first house, their mother's dream. >> she always wanted a house for us. so i know she's probably ecstatic right now. >> so you made dinner already for tonight? >> yes. >> what is dinner? >> baked chicken and rice, white rice. >> i might have to stay a little longer. >> reporter: as part of his training, we watch as trey returns from a call with the palm beach gardens fire rescue station 65. we go to find him after the test at palm beach state college. >> how did it go? >> passed the first one. >> feeling good? >> yeah. >> all right, the smile says it all. >> reporter: turning points for all of the families. cornelia about to make the honor roll. she's now finishing the first
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grade and getting ready for the choctaws' first festival since the pandemic started. >> they choose two dances and dance in front of the whole community. ♪ >> reporter: the community, the children who lost so much here, together again. back in lyndhurst, new jersey, kylie and colton marking one year without their father. and they're doing it with something their dad loved, mini golf. >> oh, oh! >> reporter: a hole in one for mom. but one year later, the moments when the pain is still raw. a relative posting a tribute to their father on facebook. >> today marks one year since you're gone. >> reporter: a hug for her mother. and the speech kylie is about to give for her father. >> good afternoon, everyone. my name is kylie coney.
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going back to school was and still is the most challenging thing i ever had to conquer. this year, my brother decided to join hockey. we are slowly learning to find happiness in our lives again. perhaps sharing can let other families know, let other children know, they are not alone. thank you. we won! yes! noooo... noooo... noooo... quick, the quicker picker upper! bounty picks up messes quicker and each sheet is 2x more absorbent, so you can use less. i'll hold onto that. bounty, the quicker picker upper. ♪♪ we all need a rock we can rely on. to be strong. to overcome anything. ♪♪
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that brave speech from a young daughter. words she never thought she would have to write. standing up for all of the children who have lost a parent. urging this country not to forget. we have been so moved by all of the children, the families, who let us into their homes and into their lives and to learn more about how you can help, go to
1:06 am i'm david muir. from there all of us here at "nightline" and abc news, good nigh


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