The snapshot shows John Everett King III seated and smiling, holding hands with the baby nestled between his legs. They’re on a “milestone blanket” and beside them is a numeral one highlighted with a gray circular frame.
It’s mid-April, exactly a month since Benjamin’s birth, and the plan was to repeat the photo on the 14th of every month – a sweet visual to celebrate all the changes Baby Benny would go through before his first birthday.
But after a horrific five-vehicle accident on U.S. 340 in Charles Town two weeks ago, there will be no more father-son photos.
On May 14, instead of posing on the blanket, Benny and his mother Elisabeth Mitter were recovering from injuries suffered three days earlier in the crash that took King’s life at 32.
“He was so excited to be a father – and so dedicated to Benny even though they had such a short time together,” his sister Rebecca Shirley said in an interview. “He was so supportive of Elisabeth through her pregnancy and through labor and delivery. They did all the classes and he was so excited to learn everything he could – he just totally threw himself into it.”
On May 11, King, Mitter and the baby had left their home in Reston, Va., with plans to arrive at Shirley’s home in Mount Airy, Md., for a family dinner. “They were out running errands before heading here,” she said.
Police say that around 3:15 p.m., a northbound tractor-trailer struck King’s car at the intersection of Augustine Avenue, setting off a chain reaction that sent King’s partner and son as well as eight people in three other cars to hospitals in Ranson, Virginia and Maryland.
Mitter and Benny are healing physically and no longer hospitalized, Shirley said. “But unfortunately it is going to be a long road for them.”
King’s memorial service was held Thursday morning in Brunswick, Md., where King grew up and where his father, John E. King Jr., still lives. His mother, Sharon King, died in 2011. He was the youngest of the four King children and the only boy.
“Our family is coping the best we can,” Shirley said. “There will always be a gaping hole now that he is gone.”
During the service, her brother’s giving spirit was mentioned again and again, Shirley said. “One of Johnny’s best qualities was his generosity,” she said. “It was so natural, and it didn’t matter who you were or how long he’d known you,”
King, who graduated from Brunswick High School in 2004, managed the Panera at Reston Town Center – work he loved.
“He was dedicated,” she said. “He prided himself on making his store the best it could be. He talked constantly about how he was proud of his coworkers.”
His job also gave him the chance to help out with fundraisers for causes including autism awareness. “He enjoyed being an active part in the community,” she said. “It was so important to him to help out.”
Shirley said she has heard from many of his Panera colleagues. “They have shown us in such a huge way how much he meant to them,” she said. “They have been so generous and supportive and that has meant so much to our family.”
King’s zest for travel, hiking, cycling and swimming were well known, she said. “He loved anything outdoors,” she said. “Getting lost never bothered him – he’d even get lost on purpose. He just looked at it as chance to explore, as another adventure.”
He also was “a nerd before it was cool,” his sister said. “Video games, Dungeons and Dragons, you name it. He was obsessed with ‘Legend of Zelda’ since the very first game came out when we were kids.
“He was unapologetically himself.”
Though he’d just become a father, Shirley said he’d always been a “fantastic” uncle to her daughter, who is 7, as well as to the 5-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter of his sister Nancy McGovern. A video prepared for the memorial shows King with his nephew and nieces outside a Chuck E. Cheese’s, providing a push on swings at a playground, smiling and mugging for the camera.
“He was definitely the fun, goofy uncle,” Shirley said. “They loved being with him.”
Shirley said she’ll work to ensure that Benny, his cousins and others remember King, particularly his “spontaneous, adventurous” approach to life.
“In between the grief, the tears … the absolute disbelief that I’ll never hear his laugh again, I feel inspired,” she said. “I want to carry his love of adventure with me. I want to teach my daughter to be spontaneous … to let go and appreciate the thrill of new experiences and new places.”
She said that keeping his spirit alive through their children is her goal. “Especially his son, so he will know how truly one of a kind his dad was,” she said.