LAYTON — Looking in on the happy family, it might be hard to put your finger on what's missing. But the Toone family lives with a feeling of emptiness every single day.
Nathan and Brenda Toone say four years ago, they were a normal family of six.
"I remember just having a feeling that I was right where I wanted to be," Brenda said.
Now the family dynamic is different. "Still happy, but it's not the family I imagined," she said.
In February 2010, the entire Toone family — Nathan, Brenda and their four children — became ill from what they initially thought was food poisoning. When 4-year-old Rebecca took a turn for the worst, she was rushed to the hospital where she later died.
"I remember specifically the day after Rebecca passed away," Nathan said. "My brother was with me in the hospital room. I remember saying to him that I was confident that everyone else would be OK because there was no way that I would be able to withstand losing another child."
But just three days later, the unthinkable happened. Fifteen-month-old Rachel passed away, too.
"It was the very lowest time of my life," Brenda said.
I remember saying ... I was confident that everyone else would be OK because there was no way that I would be able to withstand losing another child.
Investigators later blamed the girls' deaths on fumes from rat poison that a technician placed too close to the Toone's home. In the midst of their grief, the Toone family did something no one expected.
They immediately expressed forgiveness.
"I don't think that we will have any sort of long-term anger or resentment or any sort of regret in our lives because of this," Nathan said at the time.
Three years after the tragic deaths of their daughters, the Toones spoke with KSL about that expression of forgiveness and lessons they've learned along the way. They say it's not hard to talk about Rebecca and Rachel.
"We really like to talk about them. I think that helps us to still acknowledge and feel they are a part of our family, because they are a part of our family although they're not with us right now," Nathan explained.
Support of friends, family and strangers helped.
"I was so uplifted by knowing how many people were praying for my family and who were grieving with us," Brenda said.
Expressing forgiveness so soon after the deaths felt like the right thing to do, according to Nathan.
Bad things happen. I think that in general you need to look for the best in people.
"It didn't feel at the time like a hard thing to do," he said. "You don't know what you're capable of until you're asked to be put through it. We knew that the technician who was responsible for the deaths of our girls didn't do it intentionally. Bad things happen. I think that in general you need to look for the best in people."
Coleman Nocks, an employee of Bugman Pest and Lawn, was the technician responsible for placing high levels of rat poison dangerously close to the Toone's home. He was initially charged with two counts of negligent homicide. He later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of misapplying a pesticide and was sentenced to three years probation and 100 hours of community service.
How were the Toones able to forgive someone who took away something so precious?
"I felt that desire to forgive just hours after Rebecca passed away," Brenda said. "I think part of it has to do with wanting be the kind of person that my daughters can still be proud of."
Both Brenda and Nathan credit their faith in God as a key reason they were able to find forgiveness so soon and for being able to find happiness once again, although they carry grief with them still.
"I think if we were carrying (a grudge too), that what would be missing from our lives would be the happiness that we've learned to have in spite of our sadness," Brenda said.
"I don't think anyone who has not lost a child can appreciate how bad it is," she continued. "I think of them constantly. And I am in a good place right now. I am in a place where I feel happy and I feel like I have learned how to be better at focusing on what I have rather than on what's missing. But that doesn't mean I don't think about who's missing. It just means that I've learned how to have a positive attitude."
Though the Toones say they would do anything to bring back their girls, what they wouldn't give back is what they've gained: a deeper understanding of family, forgiveness and their faith.
"It's made me, ironically, fear death less. Now I have something to look forward to. I have two little girls who are waiting," Brenda said.