BOONE, NC (WBTV) - When you think "widow" you probably don't think about a young 28-year-old single mom, raising a toddler.
Paige Mast was left alone in 2012 after her husband, Watauga County Deputy William Mast, was shot in the face while responding to a 911 hang-up call. He's the only deputy in that county to ever be shot and killed in the line of duty.
At the time, Paige was 8-and-a-half months pregnant. She has never publicly talked about that day, or what life has been like in the almost three years since.
"I'm a lot more mature and grown up now that time has passed a bit," she said. "The numbness has worn off. The shock has worn off. I know what happened, really happened. Now I'm ready to talk about it."
The deeply faithful 28-year-old spoke exclusively this week with WBTV.
"I hope by talking with you, I can help someone else," she said. "I feel like I can help other widows who will unfortunately come along in the future."
Paige is also writing her feelings in an emotional blog. You can find it here.
When asked about the actual day – July 26, 2012 – Paige says she remembers each minute.
"The Sheriff's Office came around 3:30 in the morning," she said. "William had passed away right around midnight. His best friend was actually the first one I saw at the door, and I knew right then something bad had happened. William had always told me that if something bad happened to him, Aaron would be the one who'd come get me. So I opened the door. I saw Aaron. I knew what was going on."
She says she knew what was happening, but didn't have time to think.
"You're not really there," she said. "I felt like I was watching it all from above, like an out-of-body experience."
It was the largest funeral Watauga County has ever had, with estimations of 4,000 people. She insisted she walk behind her husband's caisson.
"He was my husband," she said. "He was my best friend and love of my life. I wasn't going to sit in the car. I was going to be right beside him until I couldn't anymore."
Paige and William had been high school sweethearts, inseparable for as long as anyone knew. They would've been married three years exactly, the day after she buried him.
Seventeen days after William was shot, Paige gave birth to their son, William Hunter Mast.
"One of the most heartbreaking things was being alone in the delivery room without my husband," she says. "My mom and sister were there. But it wasn't the same. William and I had dreamed about that moment together."
Paige has documented Hunter's life from the second he was born until just last week.
"He's a wild, free-spirit," Paige said, smiling. "Just like his daddy. The only fear he has is leaving his mom. Leaving me. That's the only thing he's ever scared of."
She gave WBTV over 100 photos, saying she wanted to share them.
Paige says she's not worried about dating or marrying again. Her life is her child and more recently, in trying to make sense of it all in an effort to help others.
Her major push right now is generating support for a 5K set for show this Saturday, June 6. It's called "Hunter's Heroes." Every year it benefits a family who gave the ultimate sacrifice. She and Hunter were the first recipients in 2013.
This year's event helps the family of U.S. Forest Service Officer Jason Crisp.
Crisp and his dog Maros were killed in March of 2013. He left behind a wife and two children.
"It's not fair," Paige said. "I'm angry sometimes. I tell God I'm angry sometimes because he wants us to tell him when we're angry. William was young. We were supposed to have more children and live in the house that we built. We hadn't even been in it for one year."
"But then I know bad things happen to good people. William was a good man. But that's not what God apparently had in store for our lives. So you just have to make the best of it. William would want me to get out and try to help other families. I'm trying to carry that mission forward."
Paige will be there this weekend. She says she knows how important community support feels.
"I grew up just that you have to push through whatever God gives you and make the best of it. Though I love him and will miss him for the rest of my life, it's just what you do."