On May 24, an Orange, Texas, couple named Riley and Emily Portie were riding their motorcycle when they were struck by a drunk driver. The parents of five died at the scene.
Officer Eric Ellison of the Orange Police Department responded to the scene of the crash, and was tasked with breaking the news to the couple's next of kin. When he arrived at the house, he found their youngest son, Kazzie, home alone.
Riley and Kazzie Portie.
"It was a very upsetting situation," Desiree Scales of the Orange Police Department told BuzzFeed News.
Ellison told BuzzFeed News that while he was sitting with Kazzie, the 18-year-old said he didn't know what he was going to do because he supposed to graduate from Little Cypress–Mauriceville High School less than a week later.
"I said, 'You are going to walk!'" Ellison told BuzzFeed News. "Your mom and dad will have front-row seats looking down from heaven, and I'll stand in their place. I've got your back."
Ellison said the accident and the family stayed with him, especially since his own 18-year-old daughter graduated on Friday.
The veteran police officer kept his promise, and came to the ceremony on Saturday. "I had to be the bearer of bad news for him, and I felt that was just the right thing to do," Ellison said.
When Kazzie accepted his diploma, Ellison was waiting for him at the end of the stage.
The entire auditorium then gave Kazzie a standing ovation.
"If you didn’t cry then you don’t have a heart," Scales said. "I was bawling my eyes out."
Kazzie's older brother Blake Henning posted a video on Facebook showing the entire stadium on its feet when his brother graduated.
Kazzie told BuzzFeed News he could not describe how much the standing ovation meant to him.
"Seeing Officer Ellison there to congratulate me meant the world to me," he said. "It was so nice to see that he actually showed a genuine care for me and my family's situation instead of us just being another 'case.'"
Kazzie said that he has received "never-ending" love and support from his community since his parents' death.
"I'll never be able to thank enough some very few people that stayed with me through the days and as well as everyone that helped me in any way at all and all the people praying for me and my family," he said.
Ellison posted on his Facebook that moments like this are what life is all about.
After the story began to spread, Ellison posted that he was grateful for the support, but that the focus should be on Kazzie.
Many of Kazzie's classmates also tweeted their support for him.
Kazzie said that even though his parents were not at the ceremony, he knows they are proud of him.
"My parents talked in the last month how proud they were of me for graduating, and not just for graduating, but how proud of me they were for the man I have become," he said. "And knowing all of this, truly warms my heart with joy."
Stephanie McNeal is a social news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Stephanie McNeal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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