It has been a rough week around here. Sunday night three university students used a cell phone to call a friend, reporting that they needed help and were near water; but the message wasn't clear, and the call was cut short. Thus began a worried search for those students--involving police, community members, their softball teammates, and other groups of university students--that ended Tuesday with the discovery of their bodies inside a vehicle submerged in a rural stock pond northwest of the city.
When I heard that terrible news, I was with a group of 30 university students in New Town for a field experience in the public schools there; we drove up at 5:30 A.M. Tuesday and were to stay overnight, spend Wednesday in the schools, and return Wednesday afternoon. Well, three of the victims' softball teammates were with my group, as were a few more baseball teammates (the men's and women's teams practice and travel together so much that they're as close as one big team), and they were completely distraught. The rest of the group was stunned, too--so we checked back out of the hotel, reboarded the bus, and came back to campus Tuesday night.
University classes were canceled Tuesday night and all day Wednesday, which was designated a day of mourning and remembrance. They were canceled again Thursday afternoon so that all faculty and students could attend a memorial service for the three ladies at 2:00 P.M. We heard from a local pastor, the university president (who was clearly emotionally shaken), the student body president, the three ladies' softball coach and team co-captain, and all of their parents, who were remarkably composed and said such beautiful things about the compassion of our community, the capability of our police and university officials, and the character of our students.
I had never met the three ladies, but I couldn't help crying throughout the service with sympathy for their family and friends, so many of them my own students whom I watched clinging to one another for support, not sure how to react or to process their own emotions--and several of whom I had hugged and listened to and sat with first in a hotel room and then on a bus late Tuesday night.
You can trace the related events from Sunday through today here. You could also search the Internet for news about Ashley Neufeld, Kyrstin Gemar, and Afton Williamson. The story captured national interest and was featured on television news (including Today and Good Morning America) and in newspapers across the U.S. and Canada (the three ladies were from CA, CO, and MB).
As if that weren't enough, yesterday Susan's grandpa Elmer Gustafson passed away. After 98 birthdays and 70 years of marriage to Susan's grandma Laura (remember Elmer and Laura?), "Grandpa Gus" ended his life's journey in the nursing home where he and Laura have been living recently. Susan's dad Roger (who was here for supper tonight) has started making funeral arrangements, and his siblings will be coming to town in the next few days to join him. The funeral will be Monday at 2:00 P.M. at our church, and Susan and I will sing one song, and our three daughters will sing another song. (Elmer always brightened up whenever our girls showed up to visit, so it'll be a sweet moment to have them sing for him one last time.)
Elmer was nearly 80 years older than the three students from our university who died this week, so their deaths were definitely more shocking. However, it's no less sad to say goodbye to a loved one who is elderly. Please keep Susan's family in your prayers as well as the families of Ashley, Kyrstin, and Afton.