Her brother didn’t believe her. It was just too good to be true — too straight out of a Disney movie.
Haley Parsons stepped into the batter’s box with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning. One pitch later, she watched as the ball soared just fair over the left-field fence for the only home run she’s ever hit. The walk-off shot on senior night gave her Auburn Riverside softball team the 10-run lead to seal the win over Federal Way.
“I was just trying to soak it all up,” Parsons said. “And trying to make sure I stepped on all the bases.
“I keep thinking that I really can’t believe it happened. It was just so perfect.”
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She began playing this sport because of how freeing it was. She found that when she stepped into the batter’s box and concentrated on hitting the ball — in those moments she was no longer fixated on the hurt, pain and confusion of why her life had been changed forever. Of why her father had chosen to murder her mother.
Parsons only began playing this sport as a distraction, showing up to a club team’s game a month after her mother’s death in 2010. She had never practiced or played before.
She was unanimously selected by her teammates last June as a team captain, which put her in charge of organizing team workouts and offseason practices. She said this has been one of her favorite years and has reminded her of why she fell in love with the game in the first place.
“Because when you don’t feel like you have anything, like everything that I had was suddenly gone. Destroyed. My parents were gone … having people who just loved me and cared about me no matter what was really important,” Parsons said.
“Giving me softball, that gave me something. Like I have a place where I belong.”
It was Saint Patrick’s Day 2010. Haley and her brothers were preparing to have dinner with their grandmother while their mother, Carol Gene Parsons, went to a counseling session with their father at Calvary Lutheran Church in Federal Way.
According to court documents about that evening:
Charles Parsons wanted to reconcile with Carol, 39, but she wanted to move on. She agreed to attend the counseling session in hopes that she could help transition her ex-husband to life after their 12-year marriage.
Carol was going to graduate from Clover Park Technical College’s health care program in a few months. She had a boyfriend.
Charles said they were going to “get down to the nitty-gritty” and asked Carol whether she planned to continue dating her boyfriend. She said yes.
He walked across the room and retrieved a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun from the pocket of his coat. As Carol began to scream, her ex-husband pointed the gun at the counselor and told him not to move.
He then opened fire on Carol, hitting her five times.
Charles left the church, called 911, told emergency dispatchers what he’d done, placed the gun on the hood of his truck, then lay on the ground until police arrived.
Grandmother Roberta Hales said she and the kids had just sat down for dinner and she was in the middle of a prayer when her phone rang with the church counselor on the other end.
She didn’t tell the kids, but rushed to Harborview Medical Center.
“I kept praying that she was alive,” she said. “I just wanted to hold her and talk to her because I thought if I held her she would be OK.”
Charles Parsons was sentenced to more than 28 years in prison in 2013 — the maximum of the standard sentencing range for his crime. He had no previous criminal history.
The kids haven’t seen or spoken to him since.
“What bothered me the most was facing the kids,” Hales said.
Auburn Riverside coach Bryce Strand first brought Parsons to varsity as a sophomore to play catcher because of how hard she worked and her knowledge of the sport.
He thought of Auburn Riverside graduate David Paulson, who played two seasons for the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, when describing Haley’s work ethic.
“Talking about kids who love the game, Haley really loves the game,” Strand said. “You can tell it means a lot to her.”
Parsons was 11 and her brothers, Maxwell and Kurt, were 9 and 5 when their mother died. About a month after her death, Parsons began playing for a club softball team, the Lakewood Divas.
Her grandmother remembers being asked if Parsons might be interested in playing.
“I said, ‘No, absolutely not,’ ” the 76-year-old Hales said. “I don’t think Haley likes sports.”
“I think they just wanted to keep my mind off everything,” Parsons said.
Carol moved Haley and her brothers in with her grandmother and her great-aunt in their three-bedroom home in Pacific following her parents’ divorce. It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement while Carol finished her schooling, and Haley and her brothers would stay with their dad in Lakewood on weekends.
After Carol’s death, the arrangement became permanent. Haley shares a room with her grandmother, her great-aunt has her own room and Maxwell and Kurt share the other.
The move also meant a change of schools and making new friends. She left her elementary school in Lakewood to attend Mt. Baker Middle School in Auburn for the start of the sixth grade.
Her grades plummeted, she fought going to school and she considered running away.
“I felt like I didn’t have anything,” Haley said. “I just didn’t care about school, I didn’t try to make any friends and I was super sad.”
Hales was trying to transition from a spoil-your-grandchildren grandmother to full-time parent. She told herself she had to be more strict if the kids were going to survive.
So she demanded they get good grades — and Haley couldn’t play softball if she didn’t.
“I had to miss a game because I didn’t have at least Cs,” Haley said. “And I was just crying and crying and I was like, ‘I have to get my grades up because I have to play softball because those are my only friends.’ I wanted to be with them.
“And it was important to me because I didn’t want my brothers to see me just giving up and think that was OK for them to do.”
Haley tried out for her middle school softball team in the seventh grade and became best friends with Taylor Carstens. Carstens stopped playing after the eighth grade, but Haley persuaded her to try out this year. Carstens is now a senior on the JV team — just so she could hang out with Haley more.
Carstens and her mother helped edit a personal essay Haley wrote about her mother that she had to send to Seattle University, where she plans to study political science in the fall. Carstens said she didn’t know the specifics of Haley’s situation until looking it up online last year.
“She doesn’t ever talk about it,” Carstens said. “And you can’t tell with Haley. It has obviously shaped her to be a really independent woman and to be really strong, but she just, sometimes, on the inside you know she is hurting.”
Like this past March 17, the seven-year anniversary of her mother’s death. So Haley went to Carstens’ house and her friend took care of her.
“I tucked her into my bed and I was saying, ‘What would you say to your mom? What would you tell her about?’” Carstens said. “So we went through this whole list of things and what she would tell her. About Seattle U, and what her brothers would say. What’s really great about Haley is that even when she allows herself to be open, she’s still really strong.”
Many of her best friends she met in softball. Like Avery Pierson, who lives in Lakewood and attends Lakes, but frequently visits Haley. She even sat in on some of Haley’s Auburn Riverside classes during her spring break, just to be with her.
“Softball has become such a big part of my life,” Haley said. “If I could talk to my 11-year-old self, I would just tell her that everything is going to be OK and that everyone around you loves you so much and that there are many things you can do to make your situation better rather than letting it control you. That’s what it did. Definitely. I just felt really bad for myself for a couple of years. There’s still a part of me now that feels bad for myself, but I try not to let that talk at all.
“I hope people learn from this not to allow their situation or their circumstance or their issues or problems serve as an excuse not to do their best or excel or chase your dreams. Be the best you can be every day. Try your best. Don’t settle or just roll over and become a victim of your circumstances.”
Haley’s side of the bedroom looks like any teenager’s. The walls are adorned with posters — including a life-size one of former Seattle Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak and bands One Direction, Lady Gaga and Kurt Cobain. Some clothes and books compete for space on the floor near her bed.
Her grandmother’s side is tidy; bed made, floor visible.
They’ve shared a room for eight years.
“She keeps her side a mess and I’ve had to tell her some weekends that she’s staying home to work on that room,” Hales said with a laugh. “But as far as I’m concerned it’s been really good. I usually just let her have the room.”
In the living room, Hales shows a scrapbook that Haley had put together. In the back was a folded essay written by Carol.
“The values I have learned and continue to teach to my children are to always treat others the way you would want them to treat you, education is vital, always give back, live with a humble heart, no one is better than you, treat everyone you meet with respect,” Carol wrote. “I also try to lead by example. I know that my children are watching everything I do. I believe that if I lead a healthy and honest lifestyle, this will reflect back onto me and my children.”
It’s not easy for Haley to talk about this. Her voice softened and eyes dampened retelling the story.
She says the strength and determination to move forward comes from her grandmother and mother, and she’s determined to be an example for her brothers.
She cherishes great memories of her mother — of them listening to music, caring for then-baby Kurt, going to pumpkin patches, the zoo, museums and picnics and Carol reading to Haley’s elementary school class.
Haley wrote about some of that in an essay, which she keeps in that scrapbook.
“No one has had more of an impact on me than my mother,” Haley wrote. “Through her determination, ability to love and value of family she has made me who I am today.
“I feel so privileged to have been able to spend the short amount of time I was able to spend with my mother because she was a truly incredible human being and I wish she could be here now to help guide me through these confusing times I am experiencing as an adolescent.
“I don’t have my mom anymore, but if you do, be thankful for her. Take note of all the good things she does. I didn’t appreciate these things until they were just memories.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677