“When the cold winds dance in,
Autumn’s brilliant color leaves,
shedding her fiery beauty
from the sycamore trees.”
“It was always two tickets,” Mike Bartle said to the courtroom. “It was always two meals. It was always a discussion between the two of us.”
Mike’s daughter, Autumn Bartle, was the miracle baby born to her parents on November 2, 2003. Her life was viciously stolen in the spring of 2018 at the tender age of fourteen. The killer is spending life in prison for the brutal murder.
Her father, Mike, describes his daughter as a “strong presence.”
“She was a force of nature,” he says. “You knew when she was near.”
Autumn was an extroverted, good-natured, curious child born in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, living in Croydon until her untimely death. She transformed into a quiet and intelligent young lady who loved to write and draw, and moderated video game sites in her spare time. She had a wealth of dreams set out before her.
“She wanted to be a psychiatrist or a psychologist,” Mike says. “She wanted to be a veterinarian. She wanted to be an artist. She dreamed of being a writer.”
Autumn and her father were close, going on daddy/daughter dates whenever they could. Mike’s world revolved around his only child, his precious little girl, for fourteen years.
That’s all the time they were given, but they made the most of it.
“Winter is a slow Waltz
changing partners now and then
as Autumn twirls away with
the promise to return again.”
Autumn Rayne Bartle was born on a chilly November night at St. Mary’s Hospital in Langhorne. Her father had been working the night shift at the Bucks County Correctional Facility the day before when Autumn’s mother, Tiffany, went into labor. When he got the call, a police officer arrived at the prison and escorted Mike to the hospital.
“I was jacked,” Mike remembers. “Super excited, scared, emotional. All of it.”
After hours of labor, Tiffany ended up having to get an epidural and a C-section. Before Mike went into the surgical suite after changing into a pair of scrubs, he got down on his knees and prayed.
“All I wanted was for her to be safe, happy, and healthy – her mother too,” he says. “And for me to not f*ck this up.”
Following Autumn’s birth after the nurses took her away to be evaluated, Mike ran home to gather more things for Tiffany. When he returned, the nurse placed Autumn into Mike’s outstretched arms, and he held his daughter for the first time.
“She was calm and just studied me. I cried happily and made baby noises, and she smiled. I knew that we would be okay, and I would do anything for that baby.”
Then the tiny infant peed on him, and the nurse took the baby, promising he’d get to hold her again before he had to leave for work.
“But our Autumn left too early
in April of ’18.
She was just beginning to bloom
in the splendor of spring.
It rains every day now
where Autumn used to play.
The trees shake in lonely shivers
ever since she went away.”
March 30, 2018, started out as an average Friday for Mike. He spoke with his daughter before he left for work.
“Mommy will be here in a bit to pick you up,” he said. “Are you good?”
“Okay,” Autumn responded. “I’m good.”
“I love you baby.”
“Be safe at work. I love you too,” were Autumn’s last words to her father.
Only hours later, Mike would receive a phone call from Autumn’s mother that would change his life forever.
By the time he arrived home after racing from his job in Center City, Autumn had been taken to the hospital and the police had cordoned off the house.
“I was livid,” Mike says when he found out who had attacked his precious daughter. “I was upset I didn’t see this coming.”
The person who attacked Autumn was her own cousin, a twenty-year-old man who was living with her family for the time being. He’d attempted to assault her in the bathroom when she fought back. He was located only hours later with a gunshot wound to his neck – his cowardly attempt to escape the prospect of prison.
Autumn died three days later on April 2, 2018 after a long, hard battle against 160 stab wounds and a gunshot to her head.
Several hundred people showed up to her funeral.
“I think we were all still in shock,” Mike remembers. “Family, friends, people from our little town, firefighters, cops, teachers she had. Others she didn’t. It was amazing how many lives she touched.”
Autumn was only in the eighth grade when she was killed. The sarcastic little girl with the big blue eyes will forever be a teenager, barely getting started on life when hers ended.
As her father told the courtroom, “There will never be a first kiss. Never be a first date. There will never be any proms, daddy/daughter formals, graduations.”
The milestones Autumn and her family will miss out on is endless. What would she have done as an adult? Which college would she have gone to? Would she have written a bestselling novel? Been a bridesmaid in her brother’s wedding? Married the man of her dreams?
The questions are never-ending.
The arm that once held a baby girl in the crook of its elbow now has a Celtic cross tattoo running across it. A tree representing family is entwined with the cross; Autumn’s cat, Bubbles, curls up beneath it, with a stack of books and a quill on either side representing the young teen’s hobbies.
“There are so many things that we loved to do together,” says Mike. “Many things that are just us.”
His favorite memories are their daddy/daughter dates. They ranged from a walk in the park to dinner at their favorite restaurant.
“It was just us. Me and my Munchkin versus the world.”
“But her presence is still very much here –
Vivid colors in the evening sky –
Deep oranges and reds for us to remember
While forever asking, ‘Why?’”
– Lindsay Schraad
“The pain did not end upon Autumn’s life. It continues. It lives inside me now and I have to carry it every day I don’t see her face or hear her laugh.”
Mike stood to give his victim impact statement for the trial of his daughter’s murderer – a poignant and gut-wrenching letter to the judge describing only a fraction of the heartbreak Mike and is family must endure now that his daughter is gone.
“Whether it was worlds of fiction, or building new bonds with her friends and family, Autumn was a force of creation – always bringing into the world; never taking from it. And then she was taken from us. From me. From my family. From the world. She was taken from me because of a decision made by another. Someone else decided whether she had the right to live or die.”
One year later and justice has been served, but the anger that filled Mike when he was first told of the horrific news remains inside. When asked what he would say to his daughter if he could, he responds, “I would tell her I was sorry I wasn’t there to prevent it. And that I love her, and miss her.”
Autumn’s memory lives on in her family and friends, who Mike informs me have grown closer together since her murder. Her love, creativity, and humor will forever be remembered even by those who never knew her – especially by the seven people who received Autumn’s organs.
As her father had said, she was always giving – never taking.
Mike closed his victim impact statement with these lamentations over a father’s love for his daughter:
“Every meal where there is only one plate, every concert or Flyer’s game where there is only one seat…I carry that pain, and I did not get a choice in that either. Because even though she is gone, it is always going to be the two of us.”