Making sense of the loss


Angelique Truett, 10, left center of Providence, Fla., and her cousin Houston Andrews, 8, right center, of Raiford, Fla., pause for prayer at the memorial walk on Friday, Jan. 27, 2006, outside Lake Butler Elementary School off State Road 121. A large gathering of people walked down S.R. 121 to the Lake Butler Middle School prior to a candlelight memorial service at Fellowship Baptist Church in Raiford. Seven children were killed in a fiery accident on S.R. 121 when a tractor trailer rear-ended the car they were in, pushing them into a school bus.

TRACY WILCOX/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
LAKE BUTLER - Some filed into church pews Friday night in Union County.
Others braved the chilly evening air to gather in the parking lot of Lake Butler Elementary School.
All sought comfort for themselves and to offer support to a Union County family that lost seven children Wednesday after a car they were riding in was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer on State Road 121 while stopped behind a school bus about four miles south of Lake Butler.
And, some said, they came together to prepare knowing another difficult week is ahead when the seven will be buried.
Killed in the crash were Cynthia Nicole "Nikki" Mann, 15, Elizabeth Mann, 15, Ashley Keen, 14, Johnny Mann, 13, Miranda Finn, 10, Heaven Mann, 3, and Anthony Lamb, 20 months.
Each of the seven were represented by a heart-shaped wreath fashioned from red flowers that lined the front of Fellowship Baptist Church in Raiford. The church held a vigil for the children, five who were active members. A row of white candles and photos of the children were placed above the flowers. Below, church members had laid out toys and belongings of the seven, including stuffed animals, a football, toy vehicles, dolls and blankets.
"Physically their body is dead," the church's senior pastor, the Rev. Harold Hudson told a crowd of more than 100 people. But he told the group that they also were still alive. "Because that eternal part of them is now with the Lord."
Filling the first few pews were teenagers and children who knew the seven, some wearing T-shirts decorated with handwritten messages to their friends who lost their lives.
They marched into the church as the service began, most in pairs and holding hands, their heads bowed and each carrying an artificial flower they placed beneath the wreaths. Several cried openly during the service, passing back and forth boxes of tissue or leaving their seats at the front of the church to find parents and get a hug.
Several church members shared their recollections of the children.
Nikki was remembered as a youth leader who was charismatic, sweet and had a bubbly spirit.
Elizabeth was the quiet one, they said, who had been encouraged by the youth minister to study hard and planned to show him a recent good grade she had made the night she died.
Johnny loved the Miami Dolphins. His football, bearing the team insignia, sat beneath his wreath and he had told some he wanted to be a great NFL quarterback.
The children's immediate family did not attend. A church member said they weren't up to attending the vigil.
Down State Road 121, about seven miles south of the church, more than 110 people had earlier marched from the county's elementary school to the high school in a "memory walk" for the seven.
Jamie Cox, 30, of Raiford, a correctional officer who helped organize the march with his wife, Debra, said he didn't personally know the Mann family who lost their children.
But his own son had been in an ATV accident last year and was seriously injured, losing part of his leg.
"We know how they feel," Cox said. He and his family also made about 40 T-shirts for the march. In the purple and gold lettering of the Union County schools, the shirts read, "Hear my prayer O Lord, and let my cry come to you. Psalm 102:1. In loving memory," and listed the date of the accident.
"The people here look after each other. I think if one hurts, all hurt here," said Dorothy Raulerson, 51, of Raiford.
Circulating before the walk was a petition to reduce the speed limit in the area where the crash occurred and started by a neighbor living along the stretch of road near the wreck.
Union County school bus driver Lori Dyal, 35, said she thought reducing the speed limit in the area might help since there are several bus stops nearby. She said drivers also had talked about having signs put up along the road warning motorists of school bus stops ahead.
Dyal's husband, the Rev. Ricky Dyal, 40, a pastor at the First Baptist Church of Raiford, spoke before the march started.
"There's going to be some hard times coming," he told the crowd of parents, children and teenagers. "Lord, you're the only way this family, their friends, will get through this. Although we don't understand, we know that you do."
Lise Fisher can be reached at 374-5092.

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