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.


Alicia joined the North Gwinnett Voice, as the Editor, shortly after the first publication. She is a homegrown Buford native, with the southern charm and "bless your heart" included. ...

6 Comment

    • Cynthia Fanelli -

    • January 18, 2019 at 09:57 am

    Thank you Cindy for putting that day into words. It’s apparent that our family weren’t the only ones suffering. Buford is a special town that rallied around us. Family, friends and strangers carried us through those first horrific weeks. Thankful for all of you who stood by us in our grief. I miss Nico so very much to this day. I wish out of all the days in my life I could take that one back. It changed our lives forever.

    • Marsha Smith -

    • January 19, 2019 at 05:41 am

    You have a special gift. I could picture all you wrote. It was like I was there.

    • Lana Jones -

    • January 19, 2019 at 08:42 am

    That article just brought me to tears! Very moving!

    • Kenny Chambers -

    • January 19, 2019 at 19:50 pm

    Heaven is for real , JESUS lives there awaiting for us who believe in him , God bless Cindy & family I am sorry for your lost , yet it was a gain in HEAVEN , Amen !

    • Ricky -

    • January 19, 2019 at 22:00 pm

    Wow. This is the first that I have heard of this great loss. God Bless.

    • Margie -

    • January 20, 2019 at 17:33 pm

    My daughter was friends with and went to school with Nico’s sister. A more precious and hard working, loving family I have never known. CIndy has the voice of an Angel and frequently sang at events at school. Alana cheered with my daughter and was the sweetest, most beautiful girl. The entire family were role models in strength and honesty and living life with love and closeness. Though we felt sad for their loss – we knew they would survive because of their close family bonds.

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