It was about 3 a.m. Tuesday when Bobby and Stephanie Wilder got the call that every parent dreads: Two of their young children had been seriously injured in a car accident in Georgia.
The Wilders jumped in their car and raced toward the Georgia border, hoping to reach a hospital in Riverdale, Ga., where the children were fighting for their lives.
About 6:30 a.m., Bobby got another call on his cell phone.
The children had died.
The Wilders pulled their car into a rest area. Stephanie Wilder stepped out and collapsed to the ground, screaming.
"I loved them to death, and I don't have them anymore," said Bobby Wilder. "All I know is that they were my kids, and now they're gone."
The children, Robert Wilder Jr., 5, and Kristin Kirtley, 7, of New Port Richey, were being driven by an uncle, 18-year-old Adam Wilder, to their grandmother's house in Chicago.
Adam Wilder may have fallen asleep at the wheel, causing him to crash into a median wall on Interstate 75 just south of Atlanta, according to police in Morrow, an Atlanta suburb.
The children died shortly afterward at Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale.
Adam Wilder was in critical condition Tuesday night. His sister, April Wilder, said he might be paralyzed. He has a fractured pelvis and other major injuries from his waist down, she said.
Family members were in disbelief Tuesday that two bright, happy children could have been killed at such a young age.
Kristin was a straight-A student who loved swimming and working in the yard. She considered Bobby Wilder her father, although he was her stepfather, family members said.
Robert Jr. was an "Energizer-bunny" who liked helping his dad do almost anything, including work on the car, Bobby Wilder said. On Saturday, Wilder and the two children planted three flowers in front of their home.
"I just don't understand why they had to go like that, they're just innocent kids," April Wilder said. "I just saw them yesterday running around playing, and they said that they loved me and would see me when they got back from Chicago."
Bobby and Stephanie Wilder have another son, Justin, age 2.
April Wilder watched Justin while his parents drove toward Georgia early Tuesday. After they learned of the children's deaths, the parents returned home and began making funeral arrangements, Bobby Wilder said.
He had sent notes with the two children with their names, their address, birth dates and phone numbers where their parents could be reached in case of an emergency.
A witness to the accident found one of the notes tucked in one of the car's sun visors. She was the first to call the Wilders.