Jayden Easy anxiously tore open the shoe box, his eyes lighting up with surprise and excitement as he saw the pair of yellow Adidas Yeezy Boost sneakers inside, the item at the top of his Christmas list.
It was a rare moment of unadulterated holiday joy for the 12-year-old Freeport boy after his father, retired Army Lt. Col. Norman Easy, died earlier this month during a business trip to Shanghai, China.
On Christmas Eve, on what would have been Norman Easy’s 58th birthday, members of the Freeport community, along with retired members of the New York Jets — Norman Easy’s favorite team — came together to provide the heartbroken family with some holiday cheer. They brought the Easys a Christmas tree, a traditional holiday meal and dozens of presents for the family’s four children.
It was a welcome distraction for the family, which put Christmas on the back burner as it grieved the loss, while fighting through layers of bureaucratic red tape to get answers about Easy’s death and have his body returned home.
“My husband is a person that always put family first,” Easy’s widow, Nixtia, 48, said through tears as she was surrounded by family, friends and neighbors in the living room of her Jesse Street home. “He always kept us together. Our main thing is to keep together; to be all together as one unit.”
Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy said he recognized the family likely did not have time to decorate the house for Christmas.
“It’s got to be a hard time for them with his birthday, Christmas and New Year’s,” Kennedy said. “We are here to support them in any way we can. We are trying to ease the pain.”
Norman Easy was a decorated Army National Guardsman who served two tours in Iraq and as deputy commander of the 369th Sustainment Brigade. For the past eight years, he served as a procurement executive at Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics.
On Dec. 7, Easy boarded a China Eastern Airlines flight from Kennedy Airport to Shanghai to close a major deal for Siemens. While details of the flight remain unknown, it appears Easy, who had had a physical only weeks earlier, died midflight, said his oldest son, Marcus Easy, 28.
For the past two weeks, the family has struggled to obtain answers from the airline and the Chinese consulate, which has provided them with conflicting accounts of Easy’s death.
The family was forced to sign a waiver agreeing not to challenge details in the official Chinese police report, and the Easys hired private security to help retrieve the body. The family hopes to have his body returned home by Thursday, with a burial as early as Jan. 4.
“Things are moving forward, and we hope to have him soon,” Marcus Easy said.
Daughter Caitlin Easy, 20, said: “We are just hoping to have him back soon so we can really start the grieving process and give him the proper burial he deserves.”
A State Department spokesman declined to comment on the case, citing reduced staff because of the federal government shutdown. Calls and emails to the Chinese consulate in Washington and to China Eastern Airlines were not returned.
But while the family mourns, relatives also celebrated Easy’s life and accomplishments Monday as they adorned the Christmas tree with lights, garland and ornaments.
“He was always so loving, kind and helpful,” said Easy’s mother, Ruby Taylor.
Among those showing support for the Easy family were former Jets running back Freeman McNeil, of Huntington, and wide receiver Wesley Walker, of Dix Hills.
“I know it’s a tragedy, but when the community comes together to support each other like what’s happening here, I think the whole world ought to know,” McNeil said. “That’s what’s important and that’s what Christmas is all about.”