A mother and her young children were killed in a car crash with an alligator on a stretch of interstate in South Carolina early Monday morning.
Seven-hundred miles away, Josh Stanley had no idea his world was forever changed.
Amber Stanley was his 24-year-old wife. Four-year-old Jack and 2-year-old Autumn were his kids.
While he was in Pennsylvania for a week of work training, the rest of his family was heading from their home in Callahan, Florida, for a vacation in Myrtle Beach, People magazine reported.
But Stanley's wife and kids never made it.
Just before 1 a.m., Amber Stanley was driving on a stretch of I-95 in Orangeburg County when her Kia Soul struck a 9-foot alligator in the road.
The Kia went off the left side of the road and into the median, where it hit a tree and caught fire, according to Lance Cpl. Judd Jones of the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
Amber, Jack and Autumn all died in the vehicle fire, said Sean D. Fogle, the Chief Deputy Coroner with the Orangeburg County Coroner's Office.
Now 25-year-old Stanley is left with only memories, including his final interactions with his wife and children.
"The last time I talked to my kids is when I was leaving. I hugged them and I said I loved them and I’d see them in a week — and I was going to miss them," Stanley said, according to actionnewsjax.com.
He said the last words he spoke to his wife were left in a voicemail.
"When I landed in Atlanta, I couldn’t get a hold of her," Stanley said, according to the TV station. "The last thing I said was, ‘I love you, and I’ll talk to you later.’
Hours later, after an attempt to call Amber was not answered, Stanley got the devastating news.
“I broke down,” Stanley said, according to People magazine, which reported he immediately flew to his Florida home northwest of Jacksonville. “They were my life. Everything we had was built around each other. We were building our family up. I was just crying.”
Back home, Stanley went to a park he and Amber, his high school sweetheart, often brought Jack and Autumn, actionnewsjax.com reported.
“I’m still kind of processing though. I’ll be walking around and I’ll just, like, see something out of the corner of my eye, I go, ‘that’s Amber,’ and I know it’s not, but it’s just the first thing my brain goes to,” he said, according to the TV station.
“It comes in waves,” he told People. “I’ll think it didn’t happen, then it hits me that I’m never gonna hug my kids or kiss my wife again. I’ve been on auto-mode. I haven’t really processed it.”
Stanley is in the process of making funeral arrangements. He said said his wife loved visiting the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and he'd like to arrange a memorial there for his family, Fox News reported.
"As far as the future, I have no idea," Stanley told People. "Our future was built around our family. But now I don’t have anyone left.”