OKLAHOMA CITY – A metro mother is sharing her story that begins with tragedy and ends with hope.
In February of 1997, Cheli Porter’s three young boys were shot and killed by their own father before he shot and killed himself.
It was her ex-husband’s weekend with their 11, 10 and 8-year-old boys.
He had made threats to her before, but never to the boys.
She says she was blindsided by what happened next.
On Feb. 22, 1997, the phone rang.
On the other end was Cheli Porter’s ex-husband, Kevin Fox, who had custody of Cody, Cory and Caleb for the weekend.
“I kept asking, ‘What happened? What happened? Tell me what happened,” says Porter. “He said, ‘I love you and we’re all dead.’ And there was a noise.”
A short time later, police confirmed her worst nightmare had become reality.
“They’re gone. He shot and killed all three of the boys and the sound that you heard was him shooting himself while you were on the phone with him,” she said, remembering the conversation. “I just remember going into a rage, literally.”
But that rage didn’t last long.
First, she says she knew she had to start on the road to forgiveness.
“I know that he loved me and he didn’t know what else to do,” says Porter. “And it was wrong but I have to forgive him.”
Then, she said she needed to find a way to honor the boys.
“Just knowing that I was still here for a reason,” says Porter. “I promised them then that I would live the rest of my life trying to figure out what that reason was.”
She realized it was sharing her story with the world to spread hope and strength.
Cheli appeared on Oprah not long after she lost her sons.
“I wanted their life to mean more than the way they died,” says Porter.
Years later, Porter’s family consists of her husband, Brian, her son, Bryce, and her daughter, Breanna.
Eventually, it was time to tell her children about the brothers they would never know.
They just had one question.
“They asked, ‘Why did he do what he did?”she said. “If I could explain what he did, then I could think like he did and I don’t ever want to be able to do that.”
“My children were always raised with the knowledge that they had three brothers,” says Porter. “They would tell you their brothers lived in heaven with Jesus.”
She says it took time and faith to help her overcome the tragedy that claimed three innocent lives.
“I always tell everybody don’t walk away and think she’s so strong,” says Porter. “If you have Christ in your heart, you already have my strength.”
She says her recovery was simply putting one foot in front of the other.
“We may not be able to choose what happens to us but we choose how we react,” says Porter. “My choice was to get up to go on and to live.”
Recently, Oprah reached out to her to see how she is doing years after the boys’ deaths.
Porter says she told Oprah that she is stronger than ever.
She spends her time speaking at local churches and schools and says she hopes to continue to use her tragic past for good.
You can follow Cheli Porter through her blog, “My Life as a Comma.”