Kevin and Cheli Fox were high school sweethearts who married during Cheli's junior year. The young couple quickly began their family, welcoming three sons by the time Cheli was 20 years old. Cheli felt incredibly blessed as a mother, but as the boys grew up, Kevin and Cheli grew apart.
Kevin, Cheli says, became increasingly abusive and controlling. For years, she suffered in silence, until Kevin became physically abusive with the boys. Cheli fled with Cody, Cory and Caleb, and filed for divorce. Then came an unimaginable family tragedy.
During one weekend visit with their father just three weeks after the divorce in 1997, the boys slept soundly in their beds as their father appeared with a .22 caliber rifle. Kevin shot and killed each of his sons -- and then called Cheli to tell her what he had done. The next sound Cheli heard was the blast of the gunshot as her ex-husband killed himself while she listened over the phone.
Cheli's story made headlines. Ten weeks after the tragedy, the grieving mother spoke with Oprah about how she was trying to cope and learn to live after such a horrific event. Less than a year later, Cheli returned to "The Oprah Show" with good news: She had recently married her dear friend Bryan. Now Cheli Porter, she explained how she still took things day-by-day, but seemed on a path toward healing.
"Oprah: Where Are They Now?" recently caught up with Cheli and Bryan, and learned that their marriage is still going strong after 16 years. They are also the proud parents of 14-year-old Bryce and 11-year-old Breanna, though Cheli does not consider them a family of just four. Through frequent talks and stories, she keeps Cody, Cory and Caleb's memories alive.
When she felt Bryce and Breanna were ready to know about their siblings' tragic passing, Cheli told them the truth. "Both of my kids were in first grade when I told them how their brothers died," she says.
Each child reacted differently. "With Bryce, he's very black-and-white. He's my literal child," Cheli explains. "[He] asked if my ex-husband was still alive and when I told him he wasn't, it was like, in his mind the bad guy had been taken out of the picture and everything was fine."
Breanna had a more emotional response. "She's the one that had all of the questions growing up of, 'Why can't my brothers come from heaven and spend one night with me and then go back?'" Cheli says. "She'll be crying some nights and I'll ask her why and she'll say, 'I just miss my brothers.'"
For her part, Cheli admits that there are certain days when she struggles the most with her loss.
"Part of it is on anniversaries, birthdays. This year, my oldest son... his birthday would have been his 29th birthday and it hit me that I was 29 when I lost them," she says. "Knowing that I lived this much life, that he would be that old now when he was only 11 when he died, that's hard."
Still, Cheli says that she's no longer angry with her ex-husband for murdering their boys.
"Forgiving him was part of the healing process for me," she explains. "By choosing to continue to have love and forgiveness, I feel like I am at peace. I really, truly feel like my boys would be proud of me."
"Oprah: Where Are They Now?" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on OWN.
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more