FORT WALTON BEACH — “You know, the word says that God works all things to the good of those who love him, and I know that good is going to come from this,” Aimee Bernau said Friday as she and her husband, David, prepared to lay their 19-year-old son to rest.
"I know that my son's life was not taken in vain," Bernau added. "My son's life was taken to lead others away from the life that he himself left."
On Monday evening Cordell “Keat” Smart told Aimee goodbye, kissed her on the cheek and walked out the door with his dog by his side.
Aimee didn’t realize that goodbye would be their last moment together.
Smart died in an exchange of gunfire while standing in front of a home where he was dropping off his dog.
Seven people have since been arrested and charged with murder in connection with Smart's death.
Friday at the funeral would be the first time Aimee and David have been able to see Cordell since May 20.
Aimee used the words "numb" and "disbelief" to describe the emotions while preparing for her only son's funeral.
"Cordell was my miracle child," Aimee said. "I had a miscarriage before him and two after, so he was literally my miracle baby."
Cordell was a teen with dreams and aspirations that included joining the military. His goofy personality made him loved by many, his mom and stepfather said.
"He lit up everybody he came in contact with," David said.
Cordell loved his girlfriend, Jewel Lacross, who Aimee said was like a daughter to them. Cordell was saving money from his two jobs as he and Jewel made plans for the future.
"They were trying to build a life together," Aimee said.
Cordell loved his dog, making music and skateboarding.
Growing up in Okaloosa County, Cordell also loved the beach. Aimee said they went together often before she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, of which she is now free.
Cordell struggled at times and got into trouble. But David said he pulled himself out of a bad lifestyle "by his own bootstraps" with prayers from his parents and help from his girlfriend.
"I used to always tell (Cordell) when he was younger that there's no happy ending to the street story," Aimee said. "You're either going to wind up behind bars or in a casket. He left that lifestyle and still wound up in a casket because other people are still in that lifestyle.
"The one thing I want to come from this is for people to turn away from that life."
Aimee described her son as "empathetic" because after ridding himself of a bad lifestyle, he also tried to help his friends.
"I don't want any of his friends to do that street stuff and seek vengeance," she said. "I don't want that. The cycle has to be broken. Let the police handle it. Let the system work."
The Bernaus praised the work of the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office, which made the seven arrests.
"They just went so far above anything I thought was going to happen," David said. "Less than three days and they had people in custody for the murder of our son."
Losing her child has been a roller coaster of emotions, Aimee said.
"One minute we're laughing and telling these goofy Cordell stories because he was so funny. He was a little weirdo," she said. "We have these moments where out of nowhere I fall to the floor like is this really happening.
"I can't even look at his pictures," she added. "I know it might sound crazy, but I have to look at it like it's somebody else's child."
Aimee said Cordell's death has "rocked the whole town."
A GoFundMe was created to assist the family with funeral expenses and the coming months of healing, https://www.gofundme.com/RIP-Cordell-Keaton.
However, the family hopes for more than just monetary donations. The couple said they want Cordell honored by people changing their lives, "the way he changed his," David said.
Aimee said with hate ever-present in the world, she wants the community to respond in love.
"I forgive the people who did this," Aimee said. "I forgive them. I'm mad and I'm hurt.
"But I forgive them."