Two friends from Grandview Elementary School reunited through a Facebook post

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Layla Tanksley isn’t usually one to ask for help from strangers on the internet. But for her son James, she would try.

“I’m trying Facebook as a last ditch effort,” she wrote in the Bloomington, IN – What’s up? Group. “If you might even think you know Brody’s parents or grandparents or whoever, please help us get in touch with them!”

When the Tanksley family moved away, James thought he would never see his preschool best friend again. He didn’t even know his last name. But when Layla posted to Facebook, she received hundreds of comments offering help and wishing luck.

“Maybe it actually works,” she thought. Maybe the community will come together and reconnect the guys.

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In search of a lost friend

James and Brody met when they were in preschool together Grandview Elementary School. After that, James often spoke to his parents, Layla and Daniel, about his boyfriend.

The boys are both in third grade now and the Tanksleys have lived outside of school Monroe County Community School Corp. district for years. James is still talking about his friend.

“It was continuous,” Layla said. “He was always like, ‘My friend Brody really likes this cartoon,’ or ‘My friend Brody used to do this.'”

Although Layla and Daniel had heard all about Brody, they had never met him and didn’t know what he looked like. James usually only made casual comments. But one night last month, they heard him whimpering from his bedroom.

When Layla entered the room, she found James hiding under his covers, crying. He misses Brody so much, he said.

Layla knew she had to at least try to find him.

She tried phoning Grandview, but administration would not release student names as James was no longer a student there. So she used the only other idea she had.

“Maybe Brody Higgins? I’m not sure,” she wrote in her Facebook post. “James can’t remember.”

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One commenter suggested using them Kirkwood photo, which maintains yearbook photo archives from local schools like Grandview. Layla downloaded the website to her phone and browsed the Grandview courses. No Brodie.

Just as she was about to give up, Layla noticed that the website’s shopping cart icon was blocking a student in the bottom right corner. She looked at the page again, this time on a desktop version, and there he was. Brody Winters.

Layla ran back to the Facebook comments with the name, and before long someone was tagging his mother, Brandi Stillions – is that your Brody?

It was now 11pm, but Layla and Daniel were wide awake.

“We almost burst into tears,” Layla said, “like we found him.”

James, who has autism, doesn’t often show physical affection, even to his parents. But when Layla James showed they found Brody, he gave her three hugs.

“It put a huge smile on his face”

Nine months ago, the Tanksleys sat in their truck in a Georgia parking lot fleeing Hurricane Ida, knowing they might not have a home to return to.

The family had moved to Florida twice before. Fleeing the hurricane, they returned to Monroe County and stayed with Layla’s aunt after learning that her home had been destroyed.

They lived there for six months before they could buy a house in Judah. James now attends Needmore Elementary School in Bedford.

Making friends was difficult for James because the family moved so often. His autism and Tourette’s syndrome make it even more difficult.

Some of James’ classmates tease him at school. Maybe they weren’t taught how to deal with others who behave differently from them, Layla said.

Brody Winters, left, James Tanksley and Emily Tanksley scale the rock face at Switchyard Park in April.

However, this was never a problem for Brody. He and James became instant friends.

When Brandi Brody read Layla’s Facebook post, he said he remembered James. He missed his friend too.

“It put a huge smile on his face,” Brandi said. “He’s just always looking to make friends and doesn’t see anyone other than him. It makes me feel like I did something right.”

A bye, with more to come

When James spotted Brody at Switchyard Park a few Sundays ago, Layla was expecting a tearful reunion. Instead, the two behaved like children often do — a little awkwardly at first, then quickly acting like they’d never spent time apart at all.

The boys talked for three or four hours, ran through tunnels and climbed a rock face. Their faces flushed and their hair dripped with sweat, but they didn’t mind.

When the play date ended, James wasn’t upset about letting Brody go. They knew they would see each other again soon and many times after that.

“I know things will be different than other moms and their sons,” Layla said of herself and James. “We’re not going to get the same lifetime of things … but as a mother, you hope that one day that connection will be made. It was just really nice to see that with Brody.”

Contact Christine Stephenson at [email protected]

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