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Student missions team involved in deadly bus accident

ATLANTA, Ga. (BP) — Thirty-eight students and adult chaperones traveling from Huntsville, Ala., to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for a mission trip to Botswana were involved in a horrific accident June 8 that left dozens injured and killed one student.

The church bus from Mount Zion Baptist Church flipped onto its roof on a busy Atlanta thoroughfare, claiming the life of 17-year-old Sarah Harmening.

Injured students and adults were rushed to several Atlanta-area hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to critical. Thirty-three individuals were treated at Atlanta hospitals, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

As medical personnel jumped into action, family members and friends rushed to the bedsides of their loved ones. Area ministers gathered at the hospitals, ready to offer prayer and listening ears. Even those in the hospitals’ emergency rooms for reasons unrelated to the crash expressed concern and sympathy.

Prior to the accident, some of the students were napping; others were chatting and looking at their cell phones. Harmening was reading her Bible and writing in her journal at the time of the accident.

As she read her Bible, she wrote, “So mostly I am just reminded of why I’m here and that God has called me here and He’s done so for a reason. So I know He’s going to do incredible things.”

Concern and sympathy

The accident left some questioning why the accident occurred, how God could let such a tragedy strike a group of students who were setting out to share His love.

Mostly though they prayed and sought answers about the condition of each person on the bus.

One of the first to arrive at Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta was Terry Slay, adult education minister at Mount Zion Baptist. Holding a list of missions trip participants in one hand and his cell phone in the other hand, Slay worked feverishly to identify where individuals had been taken, what their conditions were and whether family members had yet arrived. He went back to Grady trauma rooms to pray with and encourage those injured.

At Atlanta Medical Center South, Austin McBride, student ministry intern who had been on the bus, met in a separate room with family members and friends to update them on the status of those injured. When the bus crashed, McBride reportedly helped get students off the bus, tending to their injuries until emergency responders arrived.

Within hours those with less serious injuries were released from the hospital, even as some parents were still arriving. Yet the students who were released were still desperate to know about their friends.

One young man, limping and with his arm in a sling, walked silently through the waiting room of Atlanta Medical Center South, his parents walking nearby. His eyes barely blinked; shock etched his face. He was going to be OK physically, but he wanted to head back to the trauma rooms to check on a friend.

Recent high school graduate Allison Thrasher was asleep when the bus crashed. Sitting toward the back of the bus, she crawled through a shattered window onto the pavement. Her seatmate had to be helped off the bus. Thrasher escaped with a fractured wrist and a knot on her head. She would be released from the hospital, but her mind wouldn’t release the names of her friends on the bus.

Losing her cell phone in the accident, Thrasher reached for the cell phone of her cousin, who was able to get to her side quickly. She wanted to find out anything she could about her friends.

Thrasher’s grandmother, Kathy Lankford, a member of Southside Baptist Church, was out of town when she and her husband got word of the crash. Because they were in Chattanooga, Tenn., they were able to get to Grady Memorial Hospital quickly.

Giving a big hug to her granddaughter, Lankford said, “Thank you, Lord, for keeping Allison safe.” Still she and her husband said, “Let’s pray for everyone else.”

Praying is what young Harmening wrote she was doing before, as her mother Karen shared on social media, she “went Home.”

Before losing her life, Harmening wrote in her journal, “I prayed.”