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The story behind the llama billboard in Broken Arrow

Posted at 4:52 PM, Jul 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-18 07:24:16-04

BROKEN ARROW, Okla — A billboard in Broken Arrow has some in the community wondering about the message and meaning behind it.

The billboard is of a little kid's drawing of a llama with the words "llamas are good".

It was created in honor of a little boy named Andy Free, or as his family calls him Andy Dude, who passed away in June of 2020 when he was just eight years old.

Andy loved llamas, his mother Cassie Free told 2 News he would draw them in pictures, carry around a stuffed llama, and always wanted to have them as pets.

Now they have a ranch in Mounds where they own five llamas.

Their ranch was previously in Broken Arrow where the billboard is on display on South 209th East Avenue between East 31st Street and East 41st Street.

The story behind the llama billboard in Broken Arrow

One day Cassie decided she wanted to do something with the plain billboard and decided she would use it to honor her son.

“One day I went out there with a whole bunch of paint and I crawled on top of my jeep and I primed it and I took out a picture of his drawing and I just started tracing it on there and I thought you know what this makes me happy," Cassie said.

Andy passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning after a day of boating at Lake Eufaula.

She said they were unloading the boat when Andy went unconscious and fell overboard.

It wasn't until her two older boys tested positive for carbon monoxide poisoning that they realized what happened.

The drawing on the billboard was one Andy did while he was in third grade.

His teacher, Allie Upton, said it showed his artistic flair and love for llamas but driving past it makes her miss him.

“It’s kind of bittersweet. I remember that and then at the same time. Wish I could see him do that again. So it just keeping those moments alive," Upton said.

Little did Cassie know the billboard is still spreading Andy's love today.

Cassie hopes the billboard brings others happiness as well as inspires them to look into Andy's story to understand the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Before Andy's 9th birthday they promised him they would buy a ranch and get llamas for his birthday.

Andy passed away three weeks before his birthday but that wouldn't stop them from following through with their promise.

Now the Free family is working to spread awareness, "carbon monoxide doesn’t have an odor. It doesn’t have a color or form. It’s completely invisible so it really is an invisible killer," Free said.

Cassie said carbon monoxide poisoning can look a lot like a heat-related illness or seasickness with symptoms like fatigue, confusion, headache and nausea.

“If you have little kids don’t put them on the back seat of the boats. yes it is intended seating that you should use but you know put the kids at the front you know the further away they are from the back," Free said. "If you are doing a slow sport like wake surfing or you are going through no wake zones, find ways to get out of that so that you can take a high speed run and kind of clear out the air because at those slow speeds the tail wind just recirculates the exhaust and the carbon monoxide into the back of the boat."

She also suggests taking breaks from the boat on shore and not spending the whole day on lake.

Cassie said they work every day to keep his memory alive and now with the ranch and animals they have a new goal.

“Our goal is to use these animals that Andy loved so much to be able to help other people who are hurting the same way that these animals bringing them here and building this has helped us," Free said.

For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning, where it can accumulate, and how to protect yourself, visit the U.S. Coast Guard website or the CDC.

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