On a sleepy stretch of New Cut Road, about 13 miles northwest of Spartanburg, a small wooden cross stands by the rural thoroughfare, the words “We love you JuJu forever,” written on its crossbar in black permanent marker.
At its base, in front of a small collection of prayer candles, a neon green motorcycle peeks out of the grass.
It was 2-year-old Julian Nichols’ favorite toy.
“He loved motorcycles,” said Patty Robinson, one of his aunts.
The makeshift memorial stands vigil over the spot where Julian was struck and killed by an SUV Wednesday as he tried to cross the street.
Thursday morning, family and friends gathered at the house behind the cross to help Odessa Nichols, Julian’s mother, try to make sense of the unimaginable.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Nichols said. “A piece of our soul is gone.”
When Julian was struck and killed Wednesday evening, Nichols was at work. He slipped out of the house when another young child at the residence opened the door to let the family dog inside. He saw one of his aunts standing across the street, Nichols said, and ran toward her. Before anyone could stop him, tragedy struck.
“He just got away so fast before they could catch him,” Nichols said.
By the time anyone could reach him, it was too late. He was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after the collision.
“My little sister saw the whole thing, and she stayed with my baby right here until he stopped breathing,” Nichols said, tears streaming down her face. “She was with him the whole time.”
Julian was an outgoing and energetic child who brought joy to everyone he met, Nichols said. Less than a day after his death, she said she’s still trying to process what happened.
“He loved his sisters and his cousins, he played, he just had the greatest spirit,” she said.
The memorial will remain on the side of the road, Nichols said, both as a tribute to her son, and a reminder to passing motorists to drive carefully.
“People are still just flying down this road, and we don’t want to see another child get run over,” she said.