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College mourns students’ death,
remembers their zeal in witness

GRACEVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Faculty and students of The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville continue in mourning after three members of a ministry team were killed Sept. 24 in an accident in the college van on Interstate 10 about 30 miles southeast of the campus.

The 11 students involved in the accident were members of a college “JAM (Jesus And Me) Team” returning from leading a youth worship service in Bristol, Fla. The Florida Highway Patrol said that the accident occurred when the tread separated from the van’s right rear tire about 9 p.m., according to the Gainesville Sun.

Killed in the accident were junior Jeromy Leary, 20, of Ocala, Fla., and freshmen Joseph Hall, 17, of Dothan, Ala., and David Hoffman, 18, of Cross City, Fla. Amanda Leary, wife of Jeromy Leary, remained in guarded condition at press time. She was transferred to a hospital in Ocala after she was allowed to attend her husband’s memorial service for 15 minutes at First Baptist Church in Marianna, Fla. The couple was married in August.

The driver, Jody Marie Mierop, 21, and the other passengers were treated for minor injuries and released, according to the Sun.

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Classes for Tuesday, Sept. 25, and a scheduled missions conference for the weekend were canceled. Approximately 700 students, faculty and community citizens attended a Tuesday morning prayer service in the R.G. Lee Chapel. On Friday, Sept. 28, a memorial service was held for the three students.

“Some people live for 100 years and don’t make much of a difference, but some live but briefly and change our lives,” Thomas A. Kinchen, BCF president, said at the memorial. “These three young men were all different but they had a common thread — every man grew more in love with the family here because every man grew more in love with Jesus while he was here.”

David Christopher Hoffman was valedictorian of the 2001 graduating class of Dixie County High School in Cross City. He was a member of the High Q Team and a National Merit Scholar. He is survived by his parents, David P. and Elaine Hoffman of Dowling Park, Fla.

Doug Sanders, associate pastor of youth and children at First Baptist Church in Cross City, had known Hoffman two years.

“He was a miraculous young man. He led devotions at the public high school for four years every morning,” Sanders told the Florida Baptist Witness newsjournal. “He loved Jesus and always wanted to share Jesus with others.”

Jerome Hunter Leary moved to Graceville in 1999 from Ocala, where he had received an associate of arts degree, with honors, from Central Florida Community College in his hometown. He is survived by his wife of 52 days, Amanda Thomas Leary of Graceville; parents Howard and Trina Leary of Ocala; a sister, Cynthia L. Myrick of Ocala; and a brother, Howard S. Leary of Chicago.

Mickey Graves, senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Ocala, told Florida Baptist Witness that Leary was a “wonderful young man.”

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“I had known Jeromy about 10 years. He had a quiet, but deeply determined and strong spirit,” Graves said. “It has been very hard on all of us.” Graves said Leary was planning to be a preacher.

Mark Rathel, assistant professor of theology, taught Hoffman and Leary in a New Testament class. He said Hoffman was a brilliant freshman and that the students on campus knew of the passion that gripped Leary for God and people. Although he did not have Hall in a classroom setting, Rathel said the entire campus knew about the young man who was small in stature but had a big, bold spirit. Hall was a youth leader for a Youth Mission Outbreak held on Saturday, where he led high school and middle school students in hands-on mission activities, door-to-door surveys and passing out gospel tracts.

Joseph Craig Hall of Dothan earned the rank of Life Scout in Boy Scout Troop 132 in Graceville and had received a certificate in FAITH training from Ridgecrest Baptist Church. He is survived by his parents, Craig and Pam Hall; and a brother, James Hall and sister, Rebekah Hall, all of Dothan, Ala.

Robin Jumper, associate professor of evangelism and missions, said many students at the college are experiencing “a renewed passion about their own walk with the Lord and their call to serve Jesus in evangelism.”

The JAM team left a positive influence at First Baptist Church in Bristol, Jeth Looney, minister of youth, told the Witness. That night the group had led praise and worship for the youth.

“You could tell the team loved the Lord,” Looney said. “After what happened, our youth were encouraged to live each day to the Lord.”

Rathel said Leary closed the evening service in Bristol by saying, “I do not know if I will make it home tonight.”

“Jeromy did not return to Graceville but he did, indeed, make it home,” Rathel said. “And many will find their way home to heaven because of the brief but effective ministry of Jeromy.”

Crystal Kepler, a senior and Baptist Collegiate Ministries president, said other JAM teams at the college will continue their ministries of drama, praise band and preaching.

“We have even more people wanting to be a part of the ministry now,” Kepler said.

“The entire BCF family grieves with those families who have lost loved ones in this tragic accident,” Kinchen said. “Certainly, we grieve over the loss of members of our campus family. These young people had committed their lives to the service of our Lord. We trust him for their eternity and ours.”

Funerals were held Friday, Sept. 28, in the students’ hometowns.
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Heather Stewart, BCF director of information services, contributed to this article. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: JEROMY LEARY, JOSEPH HALL and DAVID HOFFMAN.