A Red Oak 6th grader is honoring her late friend through her powerful voice and a special song.
Ava Johnson is just 12 years old working to process the loss of a classmate the only way she knows how: through her music.
“The song has really helped me because when I don't know how to express my feelings, I can always sing them,” Ava said. “That's just an easier way for me to get through it.”
The song is in memory of her good friend Behr Place.
“[He was] very joyful. When someone was down, he would always pick them up because he just had that thing about him,” Ava said with tears filling her eyes.
Behr died in an ATV crash near Poteau more than two years ago. He was just 10 years old.
“It's hard. We miss him every day, all day long,” Behr’s mom Rachel said. “He always had his expressions. He would raise an eyebrow… and whenever he was thinking or gonna give you a look, he would bend his head and look over his glasses.”
Rachel says her little boy loved adventure, basketball, baseball, hunting, fishing, and his friends and family.
“He was just kind of a fun-loving, free-spirited little boy,” she said. “His heart was so big. And if he loved you, he loved you.”
The love went both ways. Behr's friends adored him.
“His best friend actually made this design one day in class,” his mom said pointing to a t-shirt in Behr’s memory. “Most 10-year-olds don't leave that big of an impact on their friends. I knew he was an inspiration. He was our sweet, little boy. But we didn't realize how much impact he left on his friends and the community. It's helped us, our grieving process, to see how much he meant to all of his friends.”
And Ava's song, Heaven's Window, has been a part of bringing some peace to their hearts.
With the blessing of Behr's family, Ava wrote and recorded Heaven’s Window in Nashville with the help of some of country music's most talented songwriters. Billy Dawson, Lainey Edwards, and Sean Fuller, who is the drummer for Florida Georgia Line. She also shot a music video there with James Rayner.
“It was very hard because I would tear up over and over again,” said Ava. “I want it to be a symbol of hope for the family and friends I just hope it touches a lot of people.”
It's doing just that, Behr's mom says, it’s giving children and adults comfort as they navigate the tough grieving process.
But more than anything, it's helping Behr's legacy live on.
“It was meant to be, God definitely had His hand in this,” said Rachel. “That's been our prayer this whole time is that God would use Behr and his life to impact others.”
Heaven’s Window has been nominated by the Native American Music Awards for Best Independent Recording By A New Artist and Best Music Video Narrative. Ava is the NAMA’s youngest ever nominee and she’s representing the Cherokee and Osage Tribes.
The awards ceremony is November 2nd in Niagara Falls, New York. You can vote for Ava here.