Copperas Cove teen shooting victim’s family sees hope after tragedy

LeTourneau University developing prototype of the Lullaby Pacifier

By LYNETTE SOWELL

Cove Leader-Press 

 

When 17-year-old Larry Thomas Jr. moved to Copperas Cove in early 2017, it was for a fresh start to live with his father. He was enrolled in school, had taken the ASVAB, and was preparing to go into the Army after high school, said his father, Larry Thomas Sr. 

However, two weeks before Larry’s 18th birthday, he was shot and killed in November 2017 and the Thomas family was left to deal with his loss and their grief. 

Along with his loss, came the loss of a dream that became an idea – a baby pacifier that plays music, an idea that came about during a random conversation among the family. 

“A group of us were sitting in my mom’s garage one day just talking, and my son Larry asked me, ‘Hey, Pop, have you ever heard of a pacifier that plays music?’ Wow! That blew my mind,” said Larry Thomas Sr. “I had never thought about that before, so I asked him to look it up on Google. And he did so and was not able to find anything pertaining to a pacifier that plays music for babies. I advised him to stop looking and I called my sister (LaToya Thomas) the next day to tell her about it. She was intrigued to hear more, and do more research.”

With Larry’s death, however, that dream stalled. Six months later, however, LaToya talked with her brother about not letting his son’s dream of something great die with him. 

“With the grace of God’s strength, we got to work,” said Larry Sr. 

The two sketched out designs and wrote down different ideas to try to bring Larry’s pacifier concept to life.

In October 2018, nearly one year after Larry’s death, the Thomases were granted a provisional, 20-year patent for the pacifier, and Lullaby Pacifier, LLC was born. 

But, there was a catch: how could they design and develop a pacifier?

The unique concept caught the attention of LeTourneau University’s Dr. Hoo Kim, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, who upon learning the background behind the Lullaby Pacifier and the Thomases’ story, knew he had to make it a senior project for his students. 

Dr. Kim met the family through Stephen Casey, a LeTourneau alum working in the Austin area. 

“He introduced and brought this family to us, and I heard the story about the family and the loss of their son, and the idea,” said Dr. Kim. “Rather than looking for a profit or the success, I could see the value behind the story of the lullaby pacifier. It is a very small, family oriented company. But when I heard the story of their lost son, and the family’s faith, and their sadness, God touched my heart…It’s not about the success or the profit, but I asked God to use us to help the family heal and recover.”

Dr. Kim referred to a Bible verse, about God turning sadness and tears into joy and dancing. 

“That was my hope from the beginning and now. We want our team to know the story, to come together and bring our best.” 

The university, located in Longview, Texas, has a strong STEM program and each year, has a variety of year-long senior design projects that take on a multidisciplinary approach. 

Led by Dr. Kim, engineering students from mechanical, electrical, computer and biomedical engineering concentrations formed a senior design team to develop a prototype of the Lullaby Pacifier. 

The pacifier will have a battery life of about five hours once fully charged, with a GPS locator inside that can track a lost pacifier through the app. 

In addition to playing music, the pacifier will vibrate to soothe gums, take a baby’s temperature, and have blue tooth connectivity with an iPhone or Android app. There will be a removable battery for recharging and it will come in a variety of colors. 

“Our goal is to develop a fully operational prototype by the end of the spring semester,” said Dr. Kim.

Presently, the students are testing all the different modules and are validating the pacifier’s functionality. 

In addition to the design team, other LETU students are working team to develop business and marketing plans.

Dr. Kim said they are hoping to have it ready by the end of the spring semester, to present to investors and companies for the possibility of mass production. 

 “We are thrilled to have LETU be a part of this project,” said LaToya Thomas. “The students and faculty are wonderful people and great to work with.”

If all goes well, the pacifier will be available for purchase nationwide and online. 

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