An Arnold family recently returned home from California, where they found a unique way to honor their son who was shot and killed four years ago.
On New Year's eve 2008, 21-year-old Thomas Varney was home from college, driving around the small town of Arnold and visiting friends.
He was parked in front of a house when authorities say Seth Strasburg walked up to his car
and pointed a gun at his passenger.
The two men fought over the gun. It discharged and the bullet pierced through Varney's cheek. He was life flighted to Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney where he died the next night.
Pride is gradually replacing the pain Tiff and Barb Varney feel when they think about their son they called "Moose."
Barb Varney, Thomas's mom, said, "It's not something you get over. We will continue to remember and honor our son anyway we can."
They first honored him the day after this death by following through with his wishes to donate his organs.
"Heart, Pancreas. Both kidneys. Liver. Both corneas were donated. Bone and tissue," listed off Barb.
The Varneys got involved with the Nebraska Organ Recovery System. They spoke at the University of Wyoming at Laramie, where Thomas was a junior, and encouraged folks to
become organ donors.
Barb commented, "Not that it'll bring him back or that it'll make up for that, but because he did have to die, at least he's helping others."
Then, the Varneys teamed up with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to work on LB 246. The bill, which was signed into law in 2008, means coroners can no longer refuse to release donors for recovery even if they're the victim of a crime.
"It's really good knowing parts of him are still out there," said Barb.
This past December they were one of 77 families across the country chosen to decorate the "Donate Life" float for the Rose Bowl parade in Pasadena, California. The theme was "New Life Rises."
Tiff Varney, Thomas's dad, said, "It's crazy. But, it's a good crazy. Your emotions run the whole
gamut. But, it's for all the right reasons."
Using organic materials, they created a floragraph.
Barb explained, "The white rice for teeth and the whites of his eyes. In his hair, we used coffee grounds and coconut shells. There was dried strawberries that was mixed in for his lips."
The end result was a portrait of their son for all the world to see.
"I guess it was a celebration of the lives he saved and hopefully with the publicity that
will grow with more people signing up," said Barb.
Photos of the family at the parade show their smiles that come from knowing "Moose has made a difference and that they're doing him proud today.
"He would be pleased," said Barb. "He was always helping people."
As for Strasburg, he struck a plea deal with prosecutors and pleaded no contest to manslaughter and use of a firearm to commit a felony.
Now 31, he's in the Tecumseh State Prison serving a sentence of 22 to 36 years behind bars. He'll be eligible for parole in December of 2016.
Strasburg spent seven years in the army and was even assigned to a sniper team in Iraq. After his tour, he worked for a private company providing security for U.S. government workers there.
Reporter's Notes by Jessica Phinney:
If you'd like more information on organ donation or would like to sign up to be a donor, just click on www.nedonation.org or you can call the Nebraska Organ Recovery System at (402)733-1800. The office is located in Omaha.