The setting sun over New Braunfels, Texas, on March 30 found First Baptist Church holding a vigil on its lawn in remembrance of the 13 senior church members killed in a tragic bus accident the previous day in Uvalde County two hours away.
First Baptist Church of New Braunfels established online giving portals after the vigil to enable community support, establishing the Tragedy Relief Fund for the victims' families and a separate portal to "offer your support in any other way, by volunteering, donating food or through your prayers and condolences."
Senior Pastor Brad McLean and his congregation have expressed appreciation for the outpouring of love and sympathy already expressed from the Southern Baptist family, Christians of various denominations, area communities, government leaders and others.
"By God's grace, our church family has received an overwhelmingly compassionate response to the tragic bus crash that claimed the lives of 13 of our beloved members," the church said on its website. "Thank you for your support."
Funerals are already being planned for at least two of the victims as the church anticipates the full recovery of the lone bus occupant who survived the accident, 64-year-old Rose Mary Harris of New Braunfels. Her condition at San Antonio Military Medical Center in San Antonio has been upgraded from critical to fair, San Antonio CBS affiliate KENS5 News reported in a March 30 evening broadcast.
"We love her," McLean told KENS5. "We're praying for her, and I fully hope and expect that we will see her beautiful smiling face back in our choir very soon."
McLean and his staff are caring for the grieving families and the congregation that has an average Sunday worship attendance of 481, according to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. SBTC is one of two Southern Baptist conventions in the state with which the church cooperates.
"Our priority as a church in these days is to care for our families who've lost a loved one in this accident," McLean said on KENS5, noting "the hard reality" that the church "won't see those faces walking in the door, and being able to greet them and shake hands and hug them, and see some of them out of that group who served in our kitchen on Wednesday night."
While the church praises God for His assurance of eternity for the priesthood of believers, McLean said "the everyday interaction and relationship that has been built ... are the things that really will affect us, you know, a week from now, a month from now, a year from now."
Among new details emerging as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues to investigate the crash, the Associated Press has reported that two drivers in the vicinity of the accident called 911 operators in both Uvalde and Real counties to report a man driving erratically in a white pick-up truck. The two drivers called a half hour or so later as eye witnesses to the crash. The NTSB has announced plans to release available details of the investigation no later than this evening (March 31). The medical condition of the pickup truck driver, identified as 20-year-old Jack Dillon Young of Leakey, has been downgraded to critical at University Hospital, KENS5 reported.
Both the SBTC and the Baptist General Convention of Texas (Texas Baptists), with which the church also cooperates, have expressed condolences.
"The Texas Baptists family offers its deepest love, support and sympathy to the First Baptist Church of New Braunfels, and all affected by the tragic auto accident in south Texas," Texas Baptists said March 30. "We join in earnest prayer, asking that the peace of God guard their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
The condolences were on top of comments by SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards, who has met and consulted with McLean and the New Braunfels congregation to offer support. The SBTC has offered to provide grief counseling as needed and long-term support, Richards said. And SBTC representatives plan to attend each of the funerals.
Several SBTC staff have responded to the tragedy, including field ministry strategist Gilbert Chavez, director of evangelism Nathan Lorick, and pastor/church relations associate Ted Elmore. First Baptist New Braunfels senior adult pastor Billy Barnes is dually employed part-time as an SBTC senior adult associate.
None of the funeral arrangements has been finalized, First Baptist New Braunfels told Baptist Press. Funeral services for Sue Tysdal, a 76-year-old retiree survived by at least one granddaughter, are under the direction of Doeppenschmidt Funeral Home in New Braunfels, KENS5 reported; while services for Addie Schmeltekopf, 84, are under the direction of Zoeller Funeral Home in New Braunfels.
See the names of all of the victims in BP's March 30 story. Funeral arrangements will be released as they are finalized, First Baptist New Braunfels told BP. The church is still assessing the needs of the victims' families.
"As they grieve this tragic loss of their loved ones, the families have been moved by the compassionate outpouring of support from the community and across the world," the church told BP in a statement.
"The needs of the victims' families vary and are still being identified," the church said. "To offer to volunteer, donate food, or donate hotel accommodations, utilize the online Support Message Board at www.FBCNB.org. The church administrative team is actively matching offers of support from that form with unmet needs of the families.
"Donations to the Tragedy Relief Fund will be used to meet the needs of the families," the church said.
Financial donations are being accepted at http://bit.ly/2nEOL1D, and offers of other help may be extended at http://bit.ly/2nToj6q.
"First Baptist Church of New Braunfels is incredibly grateful for the overwhelming, compassionate support we have received from our community and from people around the world," the church said on its website. "We welcome your prayers during this difficult time."
With reporting by Keith Collier, managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN. Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.