Parents of twins who drowned: They are more than just a tragedy
Elijah and Elyssa Orejuela were masters of mischief. Their father, Enrique Orejuela, had proof, a photograph of the toddlers in action.
"This is an example of them being mischievous. There’s a box where their toys go, their toys are not in it, they are," he mused. And, he said, they were partners in crime, "They climbed out of the crib together; they destroyed their room together - poured powder everywhere, diapers, wipes."
Their mother, Amelia Wieand, said the twins seemed to communicate in a language only they could understand, "They very much understood each other and co-conspired in their shenanigans together."
On Wednesday afternoon, Amelia and Enrique arrived at the WVLT News studio, determined to ensure their children would be known for more than just the tragedy that took them. Amelia told Anchor Amanda Hara, "Elyssa was really daddy’s princess. Elijah was definitely more of momma’s boy. Very much so. They were both perfect. Just perfect."
That perfect family was
. With a palpable sadness, Enrique recalled the phone call he received at work. "All I heard was they’re in the pool. They're in the pool - get here as soon as you can."
Amelia received a similar phone call, jumped in her car, and drove five minutes to the babysitter's home on Fox Lonas Road. "I got there, and I ran to the back and they were working on the babies on the ground."
The twin toddlers were taken to East Tennessee Children's Hospital. Enrique said they were met by a doctor who did everything he could for Elyssa. "I begged him, I said bring my daughter back please, and he didn’t hesitate. He went back in there and worked. He wanted so save her, he did."
Unfortunately, nothing could save Elyssa that day. Then, on Tuesday, Elijah passed away. Both had drowned in their babysitter's Knoxville pool.
WVLT News Anchor Amanda Hara asked Amelia if the children were allowed to be in or near the babysitter's pool. She said no. "There’s definite anger, but I’m trying to push that really far back because I don’t want to be angry."
WVLT News uncovered a
, the childcare service owned by Jennifer Salley.
When asked if there were any red flags, Enrique said, "As parents you do the best you can to investigate."
Amelia added, they found Salley on a Care.com advertisement. She said she thought Care.com provided background checks on all the caregivers using the site. The site offers providers and parents the option to order different levels of background checks. On top of that, "One of the other parents was a police officer, and one was a physician ... I would think if they entrusted their care with her, I definitely didn’t see any red flags with that."
Hara asked if they received any more clarity about how the twins ended up in the pool. Amelia said they are trusting law enforcement to uncover those details. She said, "It doesn't matter why. It doesn’t matter what the reasons are because none of it will change anything. Nothing’s going to bring my babies back."
All Amelia and Enrique have left are little moments caught on camera. The twins' first Halloween. Photographs from their first birthday party. Their first trip to Disney. All they have left are stories that will never slip away.
"She would crawl into my jewelry box and take every piece of jewelry out and have bracelets up her arms," Amelia remembered Elyssa's fascination with accessories and Elijah's strong will. "If you tried to give him a girl sippy cup he wasn’t having it. He knew the difference between boys and girls right away."
Before Elijah passed, he donated his organs to at least four people. His heart and liver were given to two regional children. His kidneys went to an adult. His pancreas and intestines were donated to a 20-year-old boy. "He’s saved - if not three - maybe four people’s lives. It’s more than most of us will ever do in our lives," Amelia said.
She hopes one day they can meet one of Elijah's organ recipients, "It would be great if one day he could hear his sons’ heart beat once again. I’m hoping they have a bright future because of him."
Amelia Wieand and Enrique Orejuela said they are both overwhelmed by the generosity of the community. A
has raised nearly $38,000, but the twin's parents say they visit the site to read the comments of love and support left by strangers. "As a mother, you love your children, but when other people love your children, it makes you feel even better that it was more than just you -that the community loved them just as much," Amelia said.