“Liesl, hol deine haube, es ist Zeit zu gehen!”
(Liesl, get your bonnet, it’s time to go! )
Liesl Wiebe grabbed her flower covered bonnet and tied it around her chin. The charming seven year old scampered across the gravel covered driveway and jumped into the buggy.
“Mutter, kann ich das Baby halten?”
(Mother, can I hold the baby?)
The sturdy Mennonite family fit snugly into the buggy as Poppa Tobias hitched up the horse. It was a sunny morning in Montcalm County, and the Wiebe family was going to church.
Baby Hannah fussed as mother Wiebe adjusted her cheerful pinafore and scolded four year old Luther for unbuttoning his suspenders.
“Liesl, hilf deinem Bruder mit seiner Kleidung. Binde seine schuhe! “
(Liesl, help your brother with his clothing. Tie his shoes!)
Liesl’s cheerful spirit and sunny smile shone in everything she did. She happily took her younger brother’s hand and guided him through tying his sensible shoes.
“Let’s use English words Luther. Hold your laces- the bunny goes around the tree and down the hole, now pull it tight! I’m going to tuck in your shirt now, let’s button you back up, and don’t take them out again!”
Three year old Luther looked adoringly at his capable sister, and snuggled against her in the crowded buggy. Poppa Tobias climbed into the seat, and soon he and his large family were on their way to services. He glanced back at the smiling Liesl, and thanked God again for giving him seven children, seven blessings, seven Gifts from the Lord. Liesl was special, always seemed to be cheerful, ready with a smile or a happy word for the rest of the bunch. Poppa Tobias smiled inwardly. Life was good.
Claude and I chatted in the rental car as we made our way across Montcalm county. This was old stomping grounds for him, he had fifty years of history in this lovely farm country. The colors were still on the trees, a spate of warm weather had made the glorious fall longer lasting than usual.
Lovely fields of verdant winter wheat carpeted the area, bracketed by stands of yellowed corn. Honestly, I thought, this is the breadbasket of the area. Farmers truly are people to know if things go south.
I had just come from a lovely breakfast at the farmhouse of one of Claude’s cousins. Elizabeth was a talented seamstress, and married to Michael, an accomplished taxidermist. They travelled all over the world gathering the skins of the most interesting animals.Together they had raised a crew of four boisterous boys, at the same time dotting the country with her husband Michael’s amazing creations. Exotic animals from all over the world decorated Michael’s studio. Springbok, moose, wolves, and even an enormous giraffe stood guard over their work, and I was amazed at yet another part of the world I knew nothing about.
Claude and I advanced on a local farmhouse, when he noticed something out of the ordinary.
“Wait, wait, what’s going on here? There’s a car down! There are bodies on the ground!” He pulled hastily to the side of the road as my attention to the scene materialized.
A damaged red truck. Ford, F-250, shattered windshield.
A distressed man, clad in work clothes and a safety vest, telephone in hand.
A shattered Mennonite buggy, with yes, several bodies scattered haphazardly on the roadside and in the grass.
Claude- leaping out of the car, the driver of the truck running to him “I didn’t see them! I didn’t see them! ”
Claude, getting the phone and completing the 911 emergency call.
“Lord Jesus, please help us and comfort these children!” I stood, astounded for a few minutes. I counted eight bodies, two adults and six children.
“Airways! Airways! Airways!” I ran to the nearest body, an adult woman. She was breathing, barely.
I went to the man. Breathing, bubbling blood.
I checked the children. Gasp. One was dead, she had to be. Motionless, ruined beyond repair.
Another, undoubedly. Far, far too much damage.
A slight boy, sitting on the ground, a four inch gaping head wound showing his skull. Astoundingly, he was beginning to walk around aimlessly, shrieking at the top of his lungs. He’ll live.
Four other children lay scattered on the ground. A seven year old girl in a flowered bonnet. Two preschool age boys, in plain clothing and suspenders. A tiny baby, eighteen months old at best.
I checked the girl, barely breathing, heart fluttering, blue lips. The other three children were responsive, so I hovered over the girl.
She was breathing, breathing, barely breathing. She had a heartbeat. I prayed over the little one, holding her head in a neutral position, watching the air raise her lungs, watching her face slowly pale.
EMS descended and a capable young man went the girl in the flowered bonnet.
“She’s cynanotic. She’s blue. I don’t think we are going to make it here. ” He attended her while I went to the other three children.
I watched the buzz of activity with the two of the three younger children on my lap. and Luther Wiebe wept while Petr lay on the ground under my jacket. A large, capable EMS man gently assessed Petr for breathing, and set him up with breathing assistance.
I sang to Luther. Chattered at baby Hannah. Helped them both stay alert and watched Claude coordinate with EMS. Men in plain clothes began to arrive in cars, Claude had the distressing task of breaking this terrible news to the local Mennonite community.
Soon, a kind-faced EMS man told me to hold tight to both of the children, it was about to get very windy.
I looked behind me and several people, some in plain clothing, had made circle in the grassy field behind me. The trauma chopper beat the air above, and I sheltered the little ones against the turbulent air. Poppa Tobias was bundled into the chopper and taken away.
As the chopper lifted, I glanced over at the girl. Liesl Wiebe, the girl in the flowered bonnet, was covered with a blanket. She had just died, just passed into the arms of Jesus as her father flew away into the sky.
God bless you, Liesl Wiebe, 2010-2017. Rejoice in Paradise, dear child of God.
(Author’s note. At 8am, Sunday, October 29th, a red F-250 rear ended a Mennonite buggy in Montcalm County. The truck was going around sixty, the buggy about 15 mph. My boyfriend and I are visiting family here, and were the first on the scene, mere minutes after it happened. I have never been involved in a mass casualty event. This was, bar none, the most heartbreaking occurrence I have ever seen first hand. Of course, all of the identifying information has been changed. Please, if you think of it, ask God for comfort for the ‘Wiebes’. And please, pay attention when you drive.)