First, in the spring of 2014, the Phonesavanh family found themselves homeless after their house in Janesville, Wisconsin was destroyed by a fire.
With nowhere to go, they packed up all their remaining possessions into their mini van and drove 850 miles to Bounkham’s sister house in Cornelia, Georgia.
There, they stayed in the garage, converting it into a bedroom where parents Bounkham and Alecia, 7-year-old Emma, 5-year-old Mali, 3-year-old Charlie and 18-month-old Bounkham Jr., known as “Bou Bou,” all slept.
After two months of living in Bounkham’s sister’s garage, they finally found a new home in Wisconsin, where they planned to start fresh again.
But then their lives were turned upside down again, all because of a mistake by the police.
On May 28, at approximately 2 am, the family’s home was suddenly bombarded by a S.W.A.T. team.
The Habersham County Sheriff’s Office burst unannounced into the bedroom where Alecia and Bounkham were sleeping and began throwing “flash-bang” grenades.
One of the grenades landed in little Bou Bou’s pack-and-play, where he was sleeping:
“Bou Bou started screaming,” recalls Alecia Phonesavanh. “I immediately went to grab him.”
But before Alecia could get to Bou Bou, Habersham Deputy Jason Stribling picked him up and took him out of the house.
Alecia begged the officer to give back her child, but he refused to do so:
“I kept telling him, ‘Just give me my son. He’s scared. He needs me. The officer wouldn’t. And then he walked out of the room with Bou Bou and I didn’t see him again.”
It wasn’t until after the blast that police realized that Bou Bou wasn’t just screaming because he was scared, but because the flash-bang grenade had severely burned his face and torso and collapsed his left lung.
To make matters worse, when Alecia asked if her son was okay, officers lied to her:
“I asked if he got hurt. And they said, ‘No, your son is fine. He has not sustained any serious injury,” Alecia remembers. “They ended up telling us that he had lost a tooth.”
But it wasn’t long before the Phonesavanh family realized they were being lied to, when Bounkham saw blood and burn marks all over Bou Bou’s crib, along with a pillow that had exploded from the grenade.
Bou Bou was immediately taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where doctors placed him in a medically-induced coma:
“’His chest wall had torn down to muscle,’ says Dr. Walter Ingram, head of Grady’s burn trauma unit. ‘And it tore his face down to bone, down to his teeth.’”