Toy cars parked across globe remind parents of late son's courage

(CNN)Hilary and Zac Cheney are delighted that people have found connections to their late 4-year-old son across the nation. Those ties have even transcended international borders.
The toy car that Carson was holding when a 100-year-old gravestone fell on him, ending his brief life in 2012, has sparked a pay-it-forward movement to remember the boy's courage.
Where some families might see the tiny 1970 Chevrolet Camaro as a bitter reminder of their loss, the Cheneys keep it as a warm memento. It comforts them.
\"They delivered it to me an hour later and I carried that car around with me for weeks,\" Hilary Cheney said. \"I even slept with it under my pillow. Knowing it was the last thing Carson had played with makes it one of my most valued treasures.\"
That blue-and-white-striped Hot Wheels car sits in a glass case in their family room, she said.
On the first anniversary of their son's passing, Hilary Cheney thought of a way to keep Carson's spirit with them while spreading joy to others.
They began hiding toy cars, still in their packages, around their hometown of Lehi, Utah, with a card that honors Carson's memory.
\"Finders keepers,\" the card says. \"Please enjoy this gift in honor of Carson Cheney, July 31, 2007-July 5, 2012.\"
It also points the lucky finders to the Carson Courage Cars Facebook page, where they can post about their discovery.
The idea began as a way for the Cheneys and their friends to celebrate Carson's life, his mother said, but since the first car was found, their story has exploded. People who find the cars have been inspired to hide some of their own, and so the message has rippled outward, touching the lives of many.
Carson Courage Cars have popped up not only across the states, but they've also zoomed their way to international hiding places.
Facebook posters have found cars in Japan, Germany, Sweden, Italy and beyond. The family received a donation of 72 Hot Wheels and have heard from toy car collectors, they said. An enthusiastic store owner in Wisconsin reported to the Cheneys that he hides 100 cars every Sunday.
The Cheneys said they are comforted by those who have allowed their son's story to touch their hearts. Finders have been inspired to do good deeds of their own, and parents who have lost a child have been able to empathize with them, they said.
The day that changed the Cheneys' lives forever came about three weeks before Carson's fifth birthday. Carson and his parents were at the Glenwood Cemetery in Utah, where Zac Cheney was taking photos of family friends, he said. In an effort to make their friends and parents smile, Carson and his brother made funny faces and hid behind gravestones.
Then, the unthinkable happened. a 4-foot-tall, 200-pound headstone dating back to 1889 fell on young Carson. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
\"It was one of those moments when all of a sudden your whole world is different,\" Hilary Cheney said.
Before the tragedy, Zac Cheney was able to capture photos of Carson holding the toy the Cheneys now hold so close to their hearts.
\"Within hours of the accident, this word of courage came to us,\" Zac Cheney said.
Their son always loved to share with others and had a giving spirit, his parents said. He would even hold onto Halloween candy so he could share it with friends and family.
One of Zac's favorite memories of Carson came when he learned to ride a bike without training wheels at 2 years old. Carson had a determined heart and would not get discouraged amid this childhood rite of passage.
\"I'm OK. I can do hard things,\" his father remembers Carson saying.
Once he learned to balance himself, it was hard to get him off his bicycle.
Carson's love for his bike was something their neighbors knew as well. The morning of his funeral, in remembrance of Carson's bicycling adventures, the Cheneys were greeted by hundreds of bikes adorned with balloons outside their door.
The memories his mother holds most dear are the mornings when she would listen to Carson and his older brother play and talk with their toy cars.
\"Carson cars are huge for me,\" she said, explaining that for her and Zac, the initiative is just a way to keep taking care of their son.
\"He could be a friend to anybody,\" she said, and with the help of his parents, hidden cars and lucky finders, Carson is continuing to make those friends.
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