FORT SMITH, Ark. – The pages from Brooke Floyd’s past look nothing like her present.
“I feel like I had a pretty crazy lifestyle at the time,” Brooke said.
The Sugar Grove Native married Brian Floyd and became a stepmother, homeowner and business owner.
“It was a big responsibility for an 18-year-old to deal with,” Brooke said.
Then, on September 23, 2013, Brooke and Brian welcomed a baby boy.
“He was a really good baby. He was always smiling. Everybody said he was like a ray of sunshine,” Brooke said.
Brooke remembers Harper’s smile as a bright light in a dark time.
“It makes me proud. It makes me really sad, but it makes me proud,” Brooke said.
To understand the pain and explain what happened, Brooke drove more than an hour from her Fort Smith home to a place she still has trouble finding.
“It’s been two years since I’ve been out here,” Brooke said.
It gives her the same feeling on a cold January day as it did on a July night more than two and a half years ago.
“I just remember fear,” Brooke said.
Why her family left their home on July 25, 2014 and drove into the Ouachita National Forest several counties away, and what happened after their truck broke down, is still blurry.
“Brian said ‘We need to run. We need to get out of here. People are after us.’ Of course I believe him. He’s my husband. I get out. I follow him. I get my son out of his car seat,” Brooke recalled.
It wasn’t long after the sun set that their nightmare began.
“I’m asking ‘What do we do? What do we do?’ And then I just started getting hit. Every time I would walk, I would get knocked down. I would get hit. I would get knocked down. You know but the whole time I had my son. I kept holding him and trying to protect him as much as I could,” Brooke said.
Brooke remembers the sounds of terror in a pitch black forest.
“My hair being pulled and being hit in the face and my son screaming because I’m being hurt. It went on for hours,” Brooke said, describing the incident.
The Floyds tried to find their way out of the forest the next morning, but Brian couldn’t walk anymore because his leg was hurting.
“I asked him, ‘Will you hold Harper?’ I said, ‘Every time he gets cut by briars it hurts him and he cries and I don’t want him to hurt anymore.'” Brooke said.
He agreed, and she took off for help.
“Once I got to a road. I passed out,” Brooke said.
A forest service worker discovered a very bruised and barefoot Brooke alone in a ditch around 1:30 in the afternoon that Friday.
“I told him someone was trying to murder me. That’s all I could get out,” Brooke said.
They took her to the Booneville Police Department.
“When I walked into that police station to get help for my family, I was beat. My eyes were bloody,” Brooke recalled.
However, her story about how her family got separated wasn’t adding up.
“I thought my son and husband had gotten out of the woods at the time, because I could hear them walking in the distance and yelling for help,” Brooke said.
It also wasn’t clear whether Brooke was a victim — or a suspect.
“I was hit with a rifle. I still have a scar from it… I don’t know how they couldn’t look at it and say, ‘Wow, what happened to this girl,'” Brooke said.
Investigators questioned 21-year-old Brooke around the clock, even bringing in her father who made a plea for his grandson.
“I love you. I love you, but I really need you to get your head straight right now. I’m so tore up over him. I need you just to focus. Anything that you can think of, anything you can muster,” Brooke’s father said to her at the time.
Brooke later confessed that the couple had snorted methamphetamine and taken a prescription drug called Clonazepam the day before the incident, and Brian had been awake for three straight days.
Yell County Investigator said to Brooke, “We don’t care that you’ve done dope. We care about finding this child.”
Yell County Deputies were frustrated — but stayed focused on their goal of finding Harper.
“That’s the whole object of what we’re after,” an investigator said.
“Yes,” Brooke responded.
“We’ve got a 10-month-old out there,” the investigator continued.
“I know. I understand,” Brooke reiterated.
“And that’s number one concern – and number two would be Brian,” the investigator added.
While searchers spent the weekend combing the rugged terrain, Brooke sat in custody and was held on Endangering the Welfare of a Minor and Hindering Apprehension Charges. Court documents show that the mother didn’t appear to be frantic or openly concerned about her infant’s well-being.
“People kept saying that I showed no emotion at the time. But putting all of that together at the time, it was like how could I? I don’t even know what was going on,” Brooke said.
It took more than 48 hours for Brooke to sober up. She then admitted her stories of violent attacks by the unknown person chasing she and her family were false, and the couple had been hallucinating.
A seven-page affidavit (see PDF at bottom of this story) details Brooke’s confession that it was actually Brian who was hitting she and her son.
“…I got beat all night,” Brooke said.
“So Bryan was beating you?” KARK’s Ashley Ketz asked.
Brooke swallowed and responded, “Yeah.”
Five days into their search, crews made a heart-breaking discovery. Harper Floyd was found lying face-down in a diaper about a half of a mile from the truck and a tenth of a mile from Brian. Authorities later revealed Harper died of exposure and abandonment.
“I tried my best to help them,” Brooke said.
It’s Brooke’s expression in the mug shot made headlines, which she says reminds her of the misery she felt moments after learning they were gone.
“I look at that picture and all I see is pain,” Brooke said.
Moving forward, Brooke wants her mistake to send a message to others.
“I made a mistake, but never would of thought that if I took drugs I would lose my family. It’s something that I want to come from this. That anything can happen. No matter if you do it once, twice, a thousand times,” Brooke said.
Brooke pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2015 and was sentenced to ten years probation, a punishment some in the community felt wasn’t enough.
“My son’s life means more to me than anything they could of done to me,” Brooke said.
Yell County Prosecuting Attorney Tom Tatum, who sat in on interviews with Brooke and took part in the search, called the case a “frustrating deal for law enforcement.” Because Brooke wasn’t a chronic offender at the time, he felt that she wasn’t in a position to re-offend and based his decision on the facts of the case.
“It doesn’t matter if I had gotten 20 years in prison. The pain from losing my son is worse than years in prison,” Brooke said.
According to Brooke, the experience gave her post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I was really depressed. I laid in bed. I didn’t eat. I had trouble sleeping. I was scared to death sleeping in the dark,” Brooke said.
While it’s been a long road, Brooke says she’s moved past the blame and “what ifs,” with the support of friends and family.
“Probably the hardest thing – besides losing my son – was to get back on track and do the right thing,” Brooke said.
A wake up call that she’s willing to share with others.
“It was really hard to get up and go get a job again and go out in the public again, but I finally did it, and I’m moving forward, and I am standing before you today drug-free,” Brooke said.
She still sees a therapist, even though she says it was only required for one year with her probation sentence. Brooke explains why her counselor believes she was never an addict.
“She doesn’t think that I was a drug addict. She feels like it was a coping mechanism at the time for the relationship I was in,” Brooke said.
Brooke says she regrets not reaching out for help sooner.
“Going through this and I don’t want to bug someone, but everyone has someone that loves them, and they will be there to help them. So always, always go to them,” Brooke said.
The now 23-year-old has a full time job in Fort Smith and a new boyfriend.
“I live a pretty normal life now,” Brooke said.
While the first days of her son’s life look nothing like his last, the baby boy who never got to walk is always remembered.
“My son has a name just like everyone else’s kid. Harper Alexander Floyd,” as she wipes back tears.
For now, Brooke holds on to the hope they will be reunited.
“I know one day I’ll see my son, again. And without that thought, I don’t think I couldn’t have gotten through this at all,” Brooke said.