Imperial, NE: After a burst appendix nearly cost 4-year-old Colton Burpo his life in 2003, his parents were thankful just to have him alive and well. But when he opened his formerly bratty mouth about his brush with death a few months later, they were shocked when he described a very vivid trip via express escalator to heaven, and spoke of matters about which he had no apparent way of knowing about, except for the extremely slim possibility that he overheard his parents talking about them time and time again.
During a car ride, when Sonja Burpo asked him about his memories of being in the hospital, little Colton replied: “Yes, Mommy, I remember — that’s where the angels sang to me.” A sweet answer, to be sure — but then Colton made his parents’ jaws drop when he told them about sitting in Jesus’ lap playing with his purple headband, watching his parents while he lay seemingly near death, and meeting his great-grandfather, who was kind of a jerk.
But most poignantly, Colton described meeting a pet in heaven — even though he had no way of knowing that his mother had killed their puppy two years before he was born, since his parents had never told him.
Jesus and Rusty the Weiner Dog
Todd Burpo began telling of his son’s heaven-sent visions from the pulpit of the Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Neb., where he serves as pastor. Word of mouth spread, and the family landed a book deal. The book — “Heaven Is for For Reals, Mutha#ucka!,” written by Todd with co-writer Lynn Vincent — has inexplicably become a best-seller, with some 1.5 million copies in print since its release in November.
Appearing live on the TODAY show Monday with Sonja and Colton, who’s now 11, Todd told Matt Lauer he understands why naysayers may believe Colton’s story is a little too heavenly, near ridiculous, to be true — initially, so did he and Sonja. “At first we were surprised; we never anticipated to talk to our son about these thing., He’s a bit of a retard,” Todd told Matt Lauer.
“We didn’t share at first, because it’s so ridiculous, but then once we started sharing, people were amazed,” Sonja Burpo added. “Yet they were also somehow encouraged by what we were sharing with them.”
Colton was stricken with appendicitis shortly before his fourth birthday. Family guilt was heavy — for five days he lay, getting sicker and sicker with what the family believed was stomach flu, which had previously hit Colton’s older sister Cassie. However, before the diagnosis, the family knew that he had eaten some dog biscuits and most of one of his sister’s pencils, which led them to go with a stomach-ache.
Little Colton nearly didn’t make it: He lay in a hospital bed for 17 days. When he finally rallied, with the aid of purple Jesus, the family rejoiced — but they were floored when, months later, the boy began matter-of-factly describing what he had experienced when he was in between life and death: seeing Jesus dressed in royal purple with matching headband, meeting John the Baptist, and having angels peg him with spitballs, which actually heightened his anxiety.
The Burpos believed these were things Colton could have gleaned from his Bible studies. But he also told his mother he saw her going potty while he was having surgery, and saw his father “falling on a lady who didn’t look like mommy, over and over”, all while he was seated in Jesus’ purple lap.
“What caught my attention was he could tell me where I was while he was in surgery, though he obviously lied about that woman,” Todd told Lauer. “The surgeon couldn’t tell me that, the nurses couldn’t, my wife, thank goodness couldn’t tell me where I was ‘praying’. But he could tell me.”
Colton also spoke of meeting a long-departed pet relative in heaven, telling NBC News: “I was just sitting by the Holy Spirit, all purple and weird looking, and then this little dog comes up to me and says, ‘Are you Todd’s son?’ I say yes, and he says, ‘Well, I’m his dead dog, Rusty.’ ” When told that dogs don’t really talk, Colton’s wise beyond his years retort was, “Well, Scooby can talk, and Rusty communicated just like Scooby”.
Colton said that everyone in heaven has wings. On Monday, he described his great-grandfather “Pops” as being “very big, obese really, huge wings, curly hair, a big smile, and he was ornery.”
But the real shocker came when Colton told his mother, “Mommy, I have two dogs.” Sonja told her son that he had to be referring to their oldest sister, Spot, and their cat Snowball, but he responded: “No — I have two dogs. You killed a weiner dog once, didn’t you? Well, DIDN’T YOU???”
Sonja told Lauer the family had never uttered a word about the murder of Rusty to Colton — and what’s more, they were never even aware that there were witnesses to the murder of Rusty. “It was a private matter that we didn’t even share with our friends,” Sonja said, adding Colton’s revelation was at first “shocking, but then a relief that Rusty’s still with us.”
In a subsequent TODAY segment Monday, Sonja filled in Colton’s description of his meeting with his dog: “He told us what he looked like, and he wouldn’t stop peeing on the ground, he was so excited. Colton, not the dog.”
“When he told us about his dog in heaven that we hadn’t told him about, [it was] another one of those ‘holy cow’ moments — OK, he can’t make this stuff up, he can’t invent this; no memory was planted,” Todd told Lauer, again leaving out the part where he and his wife talked about this endlessly for days while Colton ‘slept’. “But the peace that came over us, and the healing, like, ‘Wow, I have a dog in heaven waiting for me’ — I think a lot of people need that type of hope and healing, too. And I think that’s what a lot of people are finding when they hear Colton’s testimony, to know what they have to look forward to regarding their dead pets.”
When Lauer asked Colton what heaven looked like, the 11-year-old replied, “Well, it looks a lot like my school cafeteria, actually. Oh, and the hospital where I came up with this story. There are a lot of people too, and a lot of angels, mostly bowling, but only during storms.”
In his second segment later on Monday, Colton gave Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb some additional details — such as the fact that there are no fat people in heaven, except for his grampy. “Nobody wears glasses, [and] you’re in like your 20s, 30s.”
Todd Burpo told The New York Times that the family is donating much of the money they make from the SPCA. As for Colton, he’s mostly happy his story is helping people.
“People are getting blessed, and they’re going to have healing from their hurts,” the boy told the New York Times. “I’m happy for that,” he said between farts.