ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — "It's still the worst day of my life. This pain's not gonna stop," said Yarnell Sampson.
Sampson, the father of Tyre Sampson, a 14-year-old St. Louis County boy who was killed Thursday night when he fell from an amusement park ride in Orlando, said he feels as though his world has suddenly stopped.
"I got off work, came home and found out about it on Facebook. It's just a nightmare. I want to know what happened to my son," he said.
Tyre died after falling from the 430-foot Orlando FreeFall ride at ICON Park around 11 p.m. Eastern time. He was at the amusement park with football teammates celebrating spring break.
"He changed my life. Gave me something to live for. That was the best thing God could have given me," the elder Sampson said.
Yarnell said at just eight years old, his son fell in love with football.
"Big Tick," as he was affectionally known, also excelled on the field and in the classroom.
"He was doing his training videos and loving it. He also started working out a lot," said Yarnell.
Tyre, a 6-foot-5-inch, 325-pound eighth grader, was a straight-A student who was looking forward to playing football for the East St. Louis Flyers this fall. He also played for Bad Boyz, a nationally ranked youth football program based in St. Louis.
"He was a very good, charismatic young man," Yarnell said. "His friends will tell you, family will tell you, anybody involved with the young man, he touched."
"I call him a gentle giant. We're all just so devastated after hearing what happened to him. I will miss him coming through the door with that big smile. He loved everybody," said Tyre's stepmother, Wendy Wooten.
"I think he was the next big thing coming out of St. Louis," said Yarnell.
"He was big in body, but in his heart, he was just a big kid," added Wooten.
Tyre was a student at City of Garden Montessori School in St. Louis. In a letter sent to families, school administrators expressed condolences to his family and friends.
On Monday, counselors will be at the school helping students and staff cope with the sudden loss.
"I just appreciate that I have him as my son," Yarnell said. "I wish he were here now so I could tell him I love him."