COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The little boy loved taking rides on tractors and mowers. Maybe that's why he was standing there, in the worst possible place, where his neighbor couldn't see him.
Maybe Joe Joe just wanted a ride.
What happened that horrifying moment altered both of their lives. Four-year-old Joseph Loughry will never be the same. Neighbor Robin Coccia, the mower driver, became so choked with grief that his fiancee would call for two ambulances -- one for the boy and one for the man.
Through it all, 23-year-old Kate Loughry found a way to keep calm. She locked eyes with her son as they waited for the medical helicopter, his lower body mangled by the mower blade, the extent of his injuries as yet unknown.
Everything would be OK, she told him. She needed to believe that, too.
"You can't reassure a child if you're freaking out," she said later.
Before all of this, before that Oct. 15 encounter in Licking County's Harrison Township, Joseph was just a little boy with a big smile and his mom's eyes. Tiny as he was, he played on a basketball team and could swing an adult softball bat. He spent hours coloring pictures.
"He's just an amazing, amazing child," said Sherry Lally, Coccia's girlfriend of 16 years.
Coccia and Lally had lived next door to Joseph's grandmother for 11 years, and the families were so close that they considered Joe Joe one of their own. Coccia, 43, and Joseph were particularly tight, Lally said. It was no surprise that the boy might have crossed the lawn to see his buddy.
"Whenever Robin is out on the mower, (Joseph) always goes for rides," said the boy's father, Ben Foley, 24. "That's what we think he was doing."
Loughry, who lives with Foley and their son in Blacklick, was visiting her mother that Monday on Cavalcade Lane in Harrison Township, near Pataskala. Joseph was playing outside. Sometime before 6 p.m., he stepped into Coccia's yard, where the neighbor was riding his lawnmower.
Coccia never saw him.
He put the tractor in reverse. Joseph was right behind. No one was more horrified than Coccia after he lifted the mower and saw what had happened. His call to 911 was so incoherent that the dispatcher ordered him to breathe.
"I need you to calm down," she said. "I can't understand anything you're saying."
Lally had never seen him like this. Even she, his fiancee, the woman who had helped him through the death of his grandparents, couldn't get him to calm down. Coccia didn't respond to a request for an interview, and Lally didn't expect he'd want to talk about the accident. But she said he's doing better. He's not shutting down. He visits Joseph in the hospital nearly every day.
For Coccia, the pain of that day is still there, Lally said. "And it'll probably be there the rest of his life."
Joseph doesn't like to talk about what happened either, Foley said. The mower blade severed his right foot, and doctors eventually had to amputate some of his right leg. They used skin from that to help patch a gash on his left thigh that stretched from his knee to his hip, Foley said.
He might be released from Nationwide Children's Hospital this week, but his recovery from those and other injuries will be long. He'll need several prosthetics as he continues to grow.
Loughry and Foley are trying to absorb it all -- the arcane medical terms, the worry of recovery, the uncertainty of the future -- without panicking.
"We try to keep things as normal as possible," Loughry said. "We have to be positive to get through this and make it work."
Joseph continues to color. His room at the hospital is covered with his works of art. He plays, too. Pictures on the Facebook page dedicated to his recovery show him cuddling stuffed animals and assembling Mr. Potato Heads and poking his head into a bag filled with cards from well-wishers.
In one photo, a man leans over his bed, pointing to a page in a book. It's Coccia. Joe Joe is smiling.
The Red Oak Pub, 250 Goosepond Rd., Newark, will donate 15 percent of customer sales to Joseph Loughry and his family from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Wednesday. For more information on Joseph and how to help, visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/PrayersForJoeJoe.