By Cindy Wiggins Tapia

It was a time of tragedy and of magic in the season of silver bells and candy canes when a child went out and collided with death, but the hand of God swept down and caught him before he hit the ground…

December 20, 1999, was a typical chaotic day at Mama’s flophouse. I lit out up Shadburn Avenue to get away from it all.  A train was paused on the tracks below the crossing in front of Silas King Street. I crossed and hastened up Main to the old Bona Allen Harness Shop and turned and headed back. Fetched up on a wrought-iron bench in Grace Harris Park across from where Buice’s used to be.

I had no more than smoked a half pack of Marlboro Red shorts when I looked up and saw a helicopter hovering near the old Bona Allen Shoe Shop. I figured the cops were after a bailer which for some reason made me uneasy enough to haul my hot-pink spikes homeward.  At Bell Street, I noticed an inordinate amount of walkers, people whispering in their yards, and cars crawling up Shadburn Avenue. At North Lee, Mama came hurtling toward me.

“Cindy Honey! I thought it was you!”

“What’s happened?”

She told me, and I fell against the trunk of a giant oak tree.

Nico Angelo Fanelli
Photo courtesy of Cindy and Angelo Fanelli

Nico Antonio Fanelli had run across the tracks in front of his house on Shadburn to get a Pokémon card at Burton’s Jeans and purchased a Dragon Ball Z and ran toward home and around the paused train and collided with the locomotive coming up the other side.

Friends and neighbors, the media, and police threw their arms around the Fanelli family and would not let go. There was a front-page article about Nico in the Gwinnett Daily Post every day for the rest of the week. People brought food until the dining room table groaned. Someone hired a maid service. Downtown shopkeepers sent expensive Christmas gifts for the surviving children. Tapp’s Funeral Home refused payment for services rendered, because “No child should die at Christmas.”

The funeral was on Thursday, December 23rd. The chapel was packed. The media was present.  His mom, Cindy, sang Nico’s favorite song, “My Heart Will Go On” from The Titanic. Angelo’s work crew sat in the left-hand pews—proud, little brown men, bawling their eyes out. Reverend McHoyt Moore preached the funeral.

Afterward, I told Cindy how much I admired her.


“For singing that song for your little boy when your heart is breaking.”  

A candlelight vigil was held on Christmas Eve Night near where Nico died, across West Main from the former Lord’s Muffler Shop. The whole town came out to pay their respects…

Downtown Buford boasted an art colony with galleries, studios, and art lessons to be had. One particular artist had been painting a series of angels. At the very moment (4:01 pm) that Nico died the artist completed the last one—amazed at the magic tragedy had wrought. The artist broke the series and gave that special painting to Cindy and Angelo. It hangs on their wall to this day.  I have seen it. It is of an angel welcoming a little boy into Heaven. It is without a doubt, Nico Antonio Fanelli.

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