William J. Green III and Amanda M. Green were entering a new phase in their lives together.
They settled into a two-story house on Seneca Street they had bought in late 2014. They both were less than a year into new jobs. Their two sons — Jacob, 7, and Alexander, 4 — were now old enough to really enjoy trips to the zoo and other outings.
Bill and Amanda took advantage of every opportunity to be outside with the boys. "They never liked to waste a weekend," said Nicole Miller, Amanda's sister. "They really loved taking them outdoors every chance they got." Usually they went on quiet nature walks in Cazenovia Park, Tifft Nature Preserve and Reinstein Woods in Cheektowaga.
The family ventured farther this past Sunday with a trip to Zoar Valley, a state preserve of uncommon beauty, with lush forests, dramatic cliffs and spellbinding views, located about 35 miles south of Buffalo.
The excursion turned tragic when Bill and Amanda died in an apparent fall from a cliff. Their two sons were airlifted to Women & Children's Hospital, where Alexander was in guarded condition and Jacob was in good condition.
Family and friends remembered the couple as devoted parents who loved animals and enjoyed a good laugh. Photographs on Facebook show the family enjoying the Erie County Fair, the Buffalo Zoo and a recent birthday party for one of the boys. In addition to their sons, the Greens cared for three rescue dogs, a couple of weasels and a variety of fish.
Amanda Green, 35, grew up in Kenmore and went to St. Paul's Catholic School and Cardinal O'Hara High School. She later attended Erie Community College to study culinary arts and ultimately earned a bachelor's degree from SUNY Buffalo State, according to Miller. "She loved baking and making extravagant cakes," said Miller.
Bill Green, 33, was a graduate of Hutch-Tech High School and earned an associate's degree from ECC. He enjoyed video games and worked for several years as a manager at a Game Stop store in North Buffalo. "He really liked things like Dr. Who and science fiction and that kind of thing," said Miller.
The couple, who first met about 12 years ago, had off-beat sensibilities. They liked Halloween so much that they decided to get married on Oct. 31, 2008, in Buffalo City Court.
"They were goofy people. They really enjoyed laughing and practical jokes and hanging around with the kids," said Miller. "Most people have mentioned that they'll miss laughing with them. They'll miss their smiles and the lightheartedness they would bring to a situation."
Buffalo firefighter Kale Crum described Bill Green as one of the funniest people he's ever met. Crum and Green were friends since high school. Green was best man at Crum's wedding and godfather to his son. "He could find the humor in any situation he came upon," said Crum.
Most recently, Bill worked as a claims adjuster for an insurance company. Amanda, a BlueCross BlueShield representative, helped doctors and other health professionals through the complexities of health insurance forms and procedures. She returned to work about a year ago, after being a stay-at-home mom for a few years.
"They were happy," said Crum.
They were busy getting ready for Alexander, who goes by "Xander," to start pre-kindergarten. Jacob is going into second grade.
On a gorgeous summer day at Zoar Valley, two hikers spotted the couple and the younger son on a ledge a few feet above the water at the base of a cliff. The hikers didn't have a cellphone with them, so they tracked down another hiker who did and called 911 at around 12:45 p.m.
Erie County Sheriff's Air 1 helicopter and SWAT and rope teams responded, but the adults had died. Alexander was taken by Mercy Flight to the hospital with multiple injuries.
Rescuers quickly realized another child might be missing, when they saw children's sneakers with the family's belongings that were too large for the 4-year-old. They continued the search until shortly after 6 p.m., when a sheriff's deputy located Jacob walking on the gorge floor. He had a broken arm and a broken ankle.
Deputies have yet to question the boys about what happened. "We're just letting family have some time," said Scott Zylka, a spokesman for the Erie County Sheriff's Office.
Investigators aren't sure if Jacob saw the fall. They also don't know if he fell from the cliff, too. No other witnesses have surfaced, Zylka said.
"There are a lot of question marks about what happened, and they still remain," he said.
Amanda Green's parents are deceased, and Miller is her only sibling. Bill Green is from a family of seven siblings. They are all coming together, along with the paternal grandparents of Jacob and Alexander, to rally around the boys, said Miller.
"The situation is a nightmare and there's no getting around that. But everyone is focused on taking care of the boys and getting the best care we can for them," she said.
Buszka Funeral Home on Clinton Street in Buffalo is handling funeral arrangements for the family, but dates and times of services have not yet been finalized.
Miller also launched a GoFundMe campaign after an outpouring of requests from community members about how they can help the boys. As of Wednesday morning, the campaign had generated more than $11,000 in pledges toward a goal of $10,000.
Miller said she "couldn't be more proud of the community" for its tremendous response.