Losing a parent at a young age can be devastating for the child in question. Justin Rozier can certainly relate to that, as his father died while serving in the army in 2003. However, 15 years after his death, a stranger arrived at the family home with a message for the teenager.
Residents of Katy, Texas, Jonathan and Jessica Rozier had just started a family together when the former answered the call to serve in Iraq. A first lieutenant in the United States army, he left his wife and nine-month old son Justin behind in 2003. Tragically though, Jonathan never returned home.
On July 19, 2003, Jonathan died in Baghdad, Iraq. As told by the Department of Defense, his unit came under attack by gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades, which led to his death. Just three days before that, the young father celebrated his 25th birthday, while he also spoke to Jessica one last time the day before his passing.
Jonathan was eventually laid to rest at Houston National Cemetery, with hundreds of people attending his funeral. “There were no limits to his aspirations,” his father David told the Military Times in 2003. “He wanted to have a career in the military, clear through to retirement.”
David then reflected on his son’s final conversation with Jessica the day before he died. “We thank God that she had the opportunity to talk with him and that they had the opportunity to talk about the future,” he added. “That was a real blessing.”
In the years that followed, Justin learned about his father’s service, treasuring items that used to belong to him. With that in mind, the teenager had one request for Jessica ahead of his 15th birthday in October 2017. He wanted a car that Jonathan used to own.
“I mean it could’ve been a 1974 Dodge Astro, I don’t even know if that’s a car!” Jessica told CBS News in November 2017. “But it could’ve been anything and [Justin] would’ve said ‘Yes.’ I know that he wishes his dad was still here.” However, this proved to be a quite challenging task for Justin’s mom.
Before Jonathan’s death, he owned a 1999 Toyota Celica convertible. In the months that followed, though, Jessica faced a tough decision, as she pondered what to do with her late husband’s car. Eventually, she gave the vehicle back to Toyota, using the money to pay for Justin’s daycare at that time.
“I didn’t want to keep chipping away at my savings to pay for a car that nobody was using,” Jessica told NBC News in November 2017. “It was just sitting in my driveway.” However, with Justin’s request still ringing in her ears, the mother started her search in August 2017.
“I feel like this is something that would connect [Justin],” Jessica said of the car to CBS News. But while she knew it wouldn’t be easy to find it, she still had hope, citing the helpfulness of social media. “Well, I’ve seen magical things happen on Facebook,” the mom added.
With that in mind, Jessica took to Facebook on August 11, 2017, posting a message that included the car’s vehicle identification number. Her plan was to find the Toyota before Justin’s 16th birthday in October 2018, as he planned to get his driver’s license at that time. However, while she had more than a year to find it, someone soon got in touch.
As it turned out, the car was in Pleasant Grove, Utah, with the owner’s daughter contacting Jessica over social media. The mom now had his phone number, but she was too nervous to speak to him straight away. “If I call and he doesn’t want to sell it, then my hopes would be crushed,” she told NBC News. “It took me 12 hours to get the courage to call him.”
After taking some time to think it over, the owner then contacted Jessica with his answer. “‘I think that your son will get more enjoyment out of having his dad’s car than I would,’” she recalled him saying. “I just got really excited.” With that in mind, she now needed to find the money to buy it back.
Thanks to social media, Utah resident Kyle Fox soon contacted Jessica about the matter, looking to help. “We decided, let’s see if we can buy the car,” he told CBS News. “So I’m always trying to do something like that to serve.”
Fox is the co-founder of a non-profit organization known as Follow the Flag, a group that helps promote patriotism across the country. On August 16, 2017, he created a GoFundMe page, hoping to raise the funds to buy the Toyota back for Jessica and Justin. And as it turned out, it didn’t long for the page to reach its target.
From there, Fox bought the car and recruited a team of mechanics, who were tasked to fix it up. After over a month of hard work, the Toyota was finally ready for Justin’s 15th birthday, a year earlier than Jessica had previously planned. “It’s what we do, it’s something we do in hopes of inspiring others,” Fox told NBC News of his team’s efforts.
Fox then drove the car from Utah down to Texas, with Justin completely unaware of the situation. When the Toyota arrived, Jessica took her son outside to welcome it up the driveway. Unsurprisingly, the teenager was completely lost for words, as he slowly ventured over to the driver’s seat.
It proved to be an incredibly emotional moment for both Jessica and Justin, as the former reflected on the car’s deeper meaning. “It’s a link to the past for him,” she told CBS News. “It’s a big thing for me too. I never got to see [Jonathan] come home. So that just one moment right there was… I think I needed that.”
As Justin sat behind the wheel surrounded by his family, taking it all in, his mom then spoke of his initial surprise. “I was waiting for him, for it to click that’s dad’s car,” Jessica told NBC News. “He starts looking at it, gets in, he looks so much like his dad.”
After 15 years of honoring his father’s memory, Justin Rozier found another piece of a deeply emotional jigsaw puzzle, thanks to his mom and a kind stranger. With that in mind, this wasn’t just a car from the past. It meant so much more.