Jennifer Brooks
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You remember the Peltier family.

Seven little kids who were playing in a Minneapolis park with their daddy when a high-speed chase crashed across their playground and brought their world crashing down.

You probably saw the smiling photos of 2-year-old Kayden, who ended up under the wheels of a 1997 Ford Expedition. Or 4-year-old Lillianna, who was run down as she played basketball with her little brother in Bohannon Park. Or 3-year-old Konnor, who climbed onto the swing set just before the driver rammed it so hard it crushed the metal frame into the rough silhouette of an SUV.

It was the kind of story that sends people rushing in with donations and good wishes. The kind of story that made you wonder why the driver, Kabaar Powell, was apparently speeding down I-94 on a revoked license, or why state troopers kept chasing him after he veered off the highway and into a residential neighborhood at speeds that reportedly topped 80 miles an hour.

But it all happened weeks ago, and there have been so many other terrible stories since then.

The news cycle moved on. The Peltier family can’t.

“We’re trying to handle the new normal for us,” said Nicolle Peltier, who’s expecting her eighth baby, a boy, in November.

The family’s new normal is surgery and therapy and medical bills on top of medical bills. It’s comforting children who wake up screaming and panic at the sound of police sirens. It’s the struggle to find babysitters and squeeze in a trip to the supermarket between endless rounds of doctor appointments.

“We’re doing the best we can,” Nicolle said. “I don’t know of any parent or person who would honestly be able to handle all of this.”

Nicolle wasn’t on the playground that June 11 morning. She was taking an exam at St. Paul College. Then the phone rang.

“I could hear my kids in the background crying, ‘Mommy, Kayden’s dead!’ ” she said. “ ‘Kayden’s dead! You need to come right now.’ ”

The SUV’s tires had rolled over Kayden’s little body, crushing his pelvis, shattering his spine, injuring his brain and damaging his spleen beyond repair. But Kayden survived — because he is the toughest 2-year-old you will ever know — and recovered enough to come home last week, riding in a donated wagon with a halo brace holding his head still while he heals. Lillianna and Konnor are healing from their injuries.

Nicolle pieced together what happened. It was a sunny morning and her husband, Kyle Peltier, brought the seven children to the park, where they scattered to play.

Lillianna and Kayden struck up a basketball game, with their father and the baby, 7-month-old Millianna, close by.

Konnor clambered up on a swing and his big sister Jullianna, who turns 7 this month, came over to give him a push. In the distance, the family could hear the wail of police sirens coming closer.

Jullianna heard a loud screech and saw a big black vehicle roaring toward her.

“She told me she turned around and saw Dad push [baby] Millie out of the way and save Millie,” Nicolle said. “And he turned around and he went to save Kayden, but he was too late. The car had rolled completely over him. Both tires went over our 2-year-old. And then he swerved and hit our 4-year-old. Both tires, again, hit her.”

Then the SUV barreled on toward the swing set. Jullianna dodged out of the way as the SUV smashed into the bars and sent Konnor flying.

“I was too late,” Kyle Peltier would later tell his wife, even though nothing that happened that day was his fault. “I was too late.”

The children keep asking why the cars were driving through the park.

“That’s the hardest thing to have to explain to your children,” Nicolle said. “They didn’t care. They didn’t care enough to stop.”

The family, who moved to Minnesota just a few years ago, is struggling to hold itself together. Nicolle’s parents, who live out of state, are taking care of the older girls. Almost 500 people have donated more than $30,000 to a GoFundMe account to help out.

They don’t know when Kayden will walk again — doctors say he needs time and physical therapy. They don’t know why this awful thing happened in what should have been the safest space in the world. They don’t understand why the stiffest penalty the driver is likely to face is probation.

Nicolle took out a student loan for those summer college classes, so she’s trying to keep up with her coursework between doctor visits.

Now, “on top of this literal mountain of heartbreak,” she said, the doctors had even worse news for them. The baby they’re expecting, the little boy they’ve named Killian Jax, is in trouble, too. His organs are developing outside his body, which means more surgeries, more bills, more heartache.

Their parish, St. Bridget, is helping where it can, said the Rev. Paul Jarvis, an associate pastor at the church.

“There is just so much that a parish family can do,” wrote Jarvis, who’s out of the country but still worrying about the Peltiers. “That’s why I personally hope that the larger family of the Twin Cities and Minnesota can embrace them with love and assistance.”

jennifer.brooks@startribune.com 612-673-4008 • Twitter: @stribrooks