Randy Sims was the sole surviving child of arguably the most infamous murderer in Madison County history.
Sims was a red-haired 2-year-old when his mother, Paula Sims, was sentenced in 1990 to life in prison for the death of his infant sister, Heather Sims. She also pleaded guilty to concealing the killing of his older infant sister, Loralei.
Despite the struggle to manage the past, Randy seemed to thrive. He went on to become a beloved schoolteacher and respected member of his church.
And even though he once said he wanted his mother to rot in prison, those close to Randy say the 27-year-old, who died a week ago in a traffic crash, might have found some forgiveness for his mom.
The sensational Paula Sims case garnered attention from around the globe. It spawned a true-crime book and two made-for-television movies.
But Randy Sims never moved away. He never changed his name. He attended local churches, schools and even college.
Aaron Myers, who knew Randy since he was 4 or 5 and later became his youth pastor at Center Grove Presbyterian Church in Edwardsville, said it probably wasn’t easy to be the son of Paula Sims.
“I would assume because of the gravity of the situation there could have been a struggle, a significant struggle,” Myers said.
Funeral services are Monday for Randy Sims and his father, Robert. They were headed to Mississippi with other church members when the back of the Simses’ Jeep was clipped by a Volvo, sending them over a bridge near Jackson, Miss., on June 20. Both men were thrown from the vehicle and died. The driver of the Volvo was charged with drunken driving.
Randy grew from an energetic little boy into a self-assured teen, then inquisitive college student, then enthusiastic teacher.
“Randy was a unique guy,” said Craig Frazier, pastor of Center Grove Presbyterian Church in Edwardsville. “He knew a lot of tragedy in his life and he grew from that to maintain a positive attitude and a wonderful spirit.”
Randy began attending church services when he was 4 or 5 with an older couple, Fred and Betty Signaigo, who lived near him, according to Myers. They dutifully brought him every Sunday. Soon, Randy became involved in the youth group headed by Myers. It may have been Frank Signaigo who told Myers about the darkness in Randy Sims’ life.
Randy’s older sister Loralei was born on June 9, 1986, to Robert and Paula Sims. Paula Sims reported that Loralei was taken by an armed intruder at the Simses’ rural home near Brighton. Her remains were found in the woods behind the home.
Randall Sims was born on Feb. 1, 1988.
Heather Sims was born March 18, 1989. Again, Paula Sims claimed an armed intruder knocked her unconscious then nabbed a then-6-week-old Heather from her bassinet. Heather’s body was found in a trash barrel in a Mississippi River access area. She was wrapped in a garbage bag later linked to a roll found in the Sims home.
Jurors found Paula Sims guilty of first-degree murder of Heather. She was sentenced on Randy’s second birthday. She later pleaded guilty to obstructing the investigation into Loralei’s death. She is serving a life sentence in prison.
At the time, prosecutors said they might seek charges against Robert. None materialized.
Robert Sims raised Randy. They lived in the Edwardsville-Holiday Shores area.
The little boy became an avid reader, consuming and collecting books, and a committed churchgoer.
“He was very intelligent and could converse easily on a number of topics,” said Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler, who attended church with Randy Sims.
The two shared an interest in history. Sims worked on Prenzler’s campaign when he ran for treasurer.
“He left a very bright mark,” Prenzler said.
Randy graduated from Lewis and Clark Community College with an associate’s degree in history and English. He received his bachelor’s degree from Greenville College in history education. He taught English for grades 7-12 at Collinsville Christian Academy for the two years before his death.
Deedra Mager, CCA’s administrator, recalled seeing Randy in the hallways and asking him about his day.
“He would reply, ‘More lovely than dreadful,’” Mager said. “That’s the way he was. He was always looking for positive, and that’s what he looked for in his students, too.”
Randy was a teacher with high expectations, who worked hard and expected the same from his students, Mager said. A sign on his classroom door said, “The smell of learning beckons you.” He was known for his still-red hair, beard and neckties.
“He loved learning and he wanted his students to love it, too,” Mager said.
And they did.
Meagan Weatherall, who just finished her junior year, was an English student in Randy’s class at Collinsville Christian Academy for two years. A month before school ended, Weatherall said she was feeling the pressure of grades and the upcoming college entrance exams. She met with Randy Sims because she thought he could understand.
“He told me that I have whatever I needed inside me to achieve greatness,” Weatherall said.
Randy grew up in the shadow of infamy, but Myers, Magers, Prenzler and Frazier said his faith, church, family and friends got him through.
“He had a very strong faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” Magers said.
“The Lord worked in Randy’s life,” Myers said. “There’s the driving factor that watched over his heart, then the human factor that put human beings into his life that brought sanity, clarity and stability into his life.”
“He didn’t want his past to be his legacy,” Weatherall said.
“Randy and Robert were very special people,” Frazier said. “They never let any of this stuff that would come up from the past get them down. Faith got them through.”
Prenzler recalled a conversation with Randy just a couple of weeks before his death.
“I asked him if he was married yet,” Prenzler said. “He said no, but he was thinking about getting engaged. I’m sorry that never happened. I am sure that young lady is devastated.”
After his mother went to prison, Randy remained a staunch supporter of his father.
“They were inseparable,” Myers said. “It didn’t surprise me at all that they were together in the car at the time of the crash.”
On blogs related to his mother’s case, a poster stating he was Randy Sims said Robert Sims was guilty of nothing but trusting Paula Sims.
Randy wrote a letter in 2006 to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, which was considering clemency for his mother. She was seeking clemency based on her claim that she suffered postpartum psychosis. In that letter, he said Paula Sims was a danger to him and his father, stating she didn’t accept responsibility until after her conviction.
“I pray that she remains in jail the rest of her life,” Randy wrote.
After childhood, Randy never visited his mother in prison, Myers and Prenzler said.
In his Christian faith, did Randy Sims ever find forgiveness for his mother, the woman who later confessed that she drowned his two sisters? No one could say for sure.
“He had true faith that Jesus Christ would get him through and bring healing into his heart,” Frazier said.
“I don’t know if we can ever forgive without tasting from the cup of forgiveness,” Myer said. “Only Randy could really say for sure. But if a person is bitter, it would show itself. Randy was the opposite of that. If he hadn’t forgiven, he was at least on the path. Forgiveness is a process that we as Christians must choose to do.”
Funeral services for Randy Troy Sims and Robert Eugene Sims are scheduled for Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Center Grove Presbyterian Church, 6729 Center Grove Road in Edwardsville with Pastor Craig Frazier officiating.