When a U.S. soldier was killed in action during a tour in Iraq, his bereaved family requested that the military deliver them one of the puppies he had met the night before his death. After being introduced to the loveable puppy, the family had a spiritual moment when a ray of sunshine beamed down upon it on a cloudy day.
In March 2007, 22-year-old Justin Rollins was killed by a roadside bomb while serving in the 82nd Airborne Division Paratroopers in Samarra, Iraq. In grief, his family sought solace in one of the dogs the soldier had befriended the night before he was killed, Shareably reports.
Justin enlisted after being inspired by the events of 9/11. His mother, Rhonda Rollins, recalled that he had been deeply affected by the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
"He really was traumatized, like the rest of us, enough so that he made up his mind," Rhonda told ABC News. "He wanted to join the military and support our country."
The tragedy of Justin's death was compounded by his plans to propose to his girlfriend, Brittney Murray. He was killed before he could pop the question, but had emailed Murray a series of pictures of his encounter with a litter of puppies he had discovered the night before.
Both Murray and Rhonda were deeply touched to see a picture of Justin holding up a puppy in his hands, gazing at it affectionately.
"It was just so nice because they were just the day before," Murray said. "It felt like he was still real, he was still here."
During Justin's funeral, Rhonda was approached by Army officials and asked if there was anything the military could do for her family.
"I said, I want one of the puppies that Justin held in Iraq the night before he was killed ... I want one of those puppies that Justin held."
A reconnaissance mission to retrieve on the puppies was considered a risky proposition, but the Rollins family was able to drum up support through a local media campaign. The Army resolved to get the job done, and managed to find one of the puppies that Justin had held before his death.
Rhonda named the dog Hero "because Justin was a hero."
When a local news crew was interviewing the Rollins family about their incredible story, they fixed the camera on Hero and captured a gorgeous image. As the puppy stood in the back porch under an overcast sky, a ray of light cut through the clouds and illuminated him.
Skip Rollins, the fallen soldier's father, believes the sunbeam was a miracle sent by Justin.
"I truly, truly believe I'll see him again, because he sent us a sign so many times that, that he's OK things that are too astronomical to not believe," Skip concluded.
In February 2014, two Hollywood companies teamed up to develop a film about Justin's story. The project has since remained in limbo, according to Variety.