The thrust of a switchblade knife robbed Kevin Huseman of his oldest son, Brandon, and would have been enough to cut the heart and soul from any parent.
Instead, Huseman, of Lowell, and his wife, Renee, found ways to channel Brandon's slaying into a road map for imparting love to children who desperately need it.
The route to Kevin Huseman's evolution — from broken and angry to healed by faith and charitable purpose — began when Brandon was fatally stabbed on the Crown Point square in 2011.
It culminated in a Region household filled with happy, smiling children — new building blocks of the Huseman family made possible through big hearts and the magic of adoption.
This Father's Day, it's an unlikely but very real story, wrapped in unwavering faith, from which we all can learn.
A gut-wrenching cellphone text in the early morning hours of Nov. 24, 2011, changed everything.
Kevin Huseman, his wife and three of their younger children were staying in hotel in Chicago, preparing to enjoy the Chicago Thanksgiving parade with friends.
Brandon, then 26, had stayed behind in Northwest Indiana. Brandon and his wife, Kristin, were celebrating the evening before the holiday with friends on the Crown Point square.
Shortly after midnight, a text from Brandon's wife hit Kevin's phone.
"The text told us that Brandon had been stabbed," Kevin said recently, recalling the day Brandon died. "We started scrambling in the hotel room. We got her (Brandon's wife) on the phone. We talked through that."
Someone had plunged a knife into Brandon's abdomen during a scuffle on the Crown Point square. At the time, Brandon was trying to play the role of peacemaker to break up an escalating argument, Kevin said.
Brandon was at Franciscan Health hospital in Crown Point, his condition not fully known.
Kevin asked his friends to watch his other children as they slept in their Chicago hotel room, and Kevin and Renee bolted home.
As Kevin and Renee neared Crown Point, Kevin remembers receiving a call from one of Brandon's friends, who was at the hospital.
"She made a comment that the medical staff felt Brandon was going to be fine," Kevin told me recently. "That was a huge relief."
Optimism grew when Kevin and Renee arrived at the emergency room to check on their son.
Brandon was in an ER room, lucid and talking but in significant pain, Kevin recalled.
Medical staff told the family a knife had nicked Brandon's liver.
In truth, it was far worse.
Brandon had been walking on Court Street with his group of friends late in the evening of Nov. 23.
One of the females in the group of friends had consumed too much alcohol that night, and the group was helping her along.
Brandon and his wife owned a home just south of the square and were heading there when a man, later identified as then 22-year-old Jeffrey Nemcek, walked by and made a comment about the apparently intoxicated woman in the group, Kevin said.
Ultimately, Nemcek ended up arguing with another man in Brandon's group of friends, witnesses told police.
By all witness accounts and courtroom testimony in Nemcek's Lake County criminal trial, Brandon intervened between the two men, holding up his palms and attempting to calm the situation.
"We're not going to fight. Everybody calm down and go home," Kevin quoted his son as saying.
Brandon, a bright engineer who graduated with honors from Andrean High School in Merrillville and later from Purdue University, was always the calmest person in the room, Kevin said of his son.
He was a consummate peacemaker.
But the deep-thinking young man wasn't able to calm this situation.
Nemcek pulled out what police described as a switchblade knife and jabbed it into Brandon's abdomen, investigators concluded.
Brandon's group of friends laid him down on the pavement in front of a downtown bank building and called an ambulance as Nemcek fled the scene.
Early on at the hospital, Kevin and Renee's confidence Brandon would be OK grew with every report they received from medical staff.
"It was somewhat eerie how often the medical staff assured us he was going to be OK," Kevin said. "It happened at least six times. I remember vividly someone telling Renee or I — or Brandon's wife — 'He's going to be fine.'"
About 6 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, the surgical crew wheeled Brandon to surgery, and Kevin walked alongside the gurney until just before the surgical area.
"I leaned over and gave Brandon a kiss on his forehead," Kevin recalled, the memory welling tears in his eyes. "And I told him I loved him. He looked up and said, 'I love you, too, Dad.'
"Those were the last words I heard him say. I'll always remember that — just the sweetness of it."
An hour and half later, the optimism began to quickly fade.
Two members of the surgical team entered a waiting room with a "concerned look" on their faces, Kevin said.
They told the Huseman family Brandon's injuries were far more severe than initially anticipated.
"They used the words, 'We're doing everything we can,'" Kevin recalled. "That really started to rest heavy."
Then another agonizing hour passed before a new update arrived.
"They said Brandon is going to die," Kevin said, emotion welling in his voice. "I remember collapsing — just falling to my knees. They said they were going to close him up and that he might have an hour to live."
As the surgical crew wheeled Brandon from the operating room to the intensive care unit, Kevin, Renee and Brandon's wife raced to an elevator to follow him up.
A surgical nurse was up on Brandon's gurney, applying life-sustaining chest compressions, as the family arrived at the hospital room, Kevin said.
"Brandon's wife looked at Renee and I, crying, and asked, "What should I do?'" Kevin recalled. "And Renee and I just said, 'Let him rest.' So they stopped.'"
Brandon died with his wife, father and mother gathered around him.
Two days after the family buried Brandon, Kevin remembers being overcome with feelings of anger and fear for the well-being of his five other children at that time.
"I was mad. I was hurt. I felt violated after that night, asking the question why," Kevin recalled. "Why did it happen? Why my son? He was an amazing contribution to society."
Kevin, a deeply spiritual man who speaks of an unquenchable thirst for the Gospel, said he prayed for the strength to forgive the man who fatally stabbed his son.
What happened next is what Kevin describes as an "immediate lift of suffocating weight."
Kevin found that capacity to forgive.
Count then-Lake Criminal Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak among those in awe of Kevin and that forgiveness.
Stefaniak, who now is the Lake Juvenile Court judge, presided over the criminal trial of Nemcek, who ultimately was convicted of reckless homicide in Brandon's death and sentenced to eight years in prison.
Stefaniak, who spoke with me last week, said he'll never forget the profound forgiveness Kevin and his family showed to his son's killer.
"The letter he read in open court was one of such mercy, forgiveness and deep faith that it was just one of the most incredible things I'd ever witnessed in a courtroom," Stefaniak said.
It's not that the letter Kevin read in court didn't seek punishment.
The letter detailed an "evil" act that robbed the world of a caring foster father, who at the time of his death also intended to adopt a 3-year-old girl who had been orphaned.
But Kevin's letter also noted he would "pray that God will someday draw Jeffrey Nemcek close to him."
Beyond the forgiveness Kevin offered his son's killer, something else quite profound arose from Brandon's death.
"Losing Brandon was the single-most devastating thing I could ever imagine happening to a parent," Kevin told me recently. "But it has been so clear through this beautiful provision of God that all of that was so purposeful."
Brandon and his wife had indeed been foster parents before his death.
In some ways, they were following in the loving footsteps of Kevin and Renee.
Brandon and his younger brother Cody, now 30, were born to Kevin and Renee.
But the Husemans then adopted four more children.
Siblings Roman, at the age of 10; Liza, at the age of 4; and Alex, at the age of 18 months joined the Huseman family in 2003, adopted from Russian orphanages.
Then the family hosted and ultimately adopted Ethan, then 10 years old, from another Russian orphanage in 2005.
So it seemed natural when Brandon became a foster father, offering love to two children — a 2-year-old boy and his 7-year-old sister — who had been removed from their home by child services.
"They desperately needed love at that time, and Brandon and his wife provided it," Kevin said.
About 2 1/2 weeks before Brandon was killed, Brandon's foster children were reunited with their birth mother.
Kevin now believes that was providence, sparing the foster children from the tragedy.
After the trial for Brandon's killer concluded, Kevin and Renee began talking about following their son's fostering example.
The talk blossomed into action.
Since Brandon's death, Kevin and Renee have welcomed seven foster children, five of whom they've adopted as their own. The two others were reunited with their birth parents, Kevin said.
During a recent visit to the Huseman home in Lowell, I met the smiling, thriving evidence of the incredible circle Kevin, his wife and their son Brandon have completed over the years.
Even as Kevin spoke to me through tears about the loss of Brandon, neither of us could keep from smiling as the little voices of Dacavon, 8, Madison, 7, Trace, 7, Kaden, 7, and Amaya, 7, could be heard playing in a nearby room.
The Husemans' love rescued all of these young lives from broken homes, laced with various tragedies and challenges.
On this Father's Day, Kevin Huseman remains thankful for these and all other treasures in his life.
But he also holds special thanks for a departed son, whose love and example continue to reshape Kevin's life every day.
To Kevin, it's all "an amazing journey of mercy," co-authored in no small part by his "peacemaker" son, Brandon.
"I am so certain that in the blink of any eye, relatively speaking, I'm going to be hugging my son again," Kevin said toward the end of our interview.
"I am so honored that God would have trusted the care of Brandon to his mother and I."