STATESBORO — Georgia Baptists are grieving the loss of five nursing students from Georgia Southern University who died in a tragic traffic accident on April 22.
The GSU Baptist Collegiate Ministry held a prayer vigil and tailored its ministry to help students heal through the grieving process, said BCM Senior Campus Minister Jerry Johnson.
Three of the students were members of Georgia Baptist churches and a third attended Northpoint Church, founded by Andy Stanley, whose father is longtime pastor of First Atlanta.
Emily Clark, 20, had been a member of Burnt Hickory Baptist Church in Powder Springs before she and her family moved their membership to Cedarcrest Church in Acworth, a church plant of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church. Her service was held at Burnt Hickory on April 26.
The service for Caitlyn Baggett was held April 26 at Oak Hill Baptist Church in Millen, where she and her family were members.
The service for Morgan Bass, 20, of Leesburg, was held April 27 at Aldridge Funeral Home in Americus. She was a member of Northside Baptist Church in her native Tifton.
The service for McKay Pittman, 21, was held April 25 at First Baptist Church of Alpharetta; she was a member of nearby Northpoint Community Church. The service for Abbie DeLoach was held on April 25 at Savannah Christian Church, where she was a member.
Tractor trailer slams into cars
The five nursing students were eastbound on I-16 at 5:45 a.m. , on their way to a Savannah hospital for their last rotation of the semester. That’s when a tractor trailer driver, who didn’t see cars braking in front of him, smashed into a line of five cars and another truck, causing a chain reaction. WSB-TV in Atlanta reported that one of the women’s cars went up in flames, according to the Georgia State Patrol.
Four of the students, all juniors, died at the scene; three others were taken to the hospital where one died.
Gov. Nathan Deal ordered the state’s flags to be flown at half-mast in memory of the students, all of whom were juniors at the 20,000-student body campus.
Some of the victims were a large part of the Greek community at Georgia Southern, and that is where the BCM focused its initial outreach.
BCM offering a healing presence
Jerry Johnson, senior campus minister, told The index that members visited the sororities where the nursing students were involved and offered condolences and invited them to a prayer vigil at the BCM building. About 40 students attended the 45-minute service the day following the accident where Scripture was interspersed with prayer with words of comfort offered by Johnson.
BCM President Gabe Thomas organized a group of students for the care giving ministry to the sororities. Thomas, a junior who attends Southbridge Community Church – a plant of First Baptist Church of Statesboro – said the campus mood remains somber several days after the accident.
“It’s been a rough year for Georgia Southern; two other students died in separate instances earlier this year and then to have these five die in one day is very difficult to accept,” he said.
Thomas spoke briefly at one of the prayer vigils held for one of the students who was a Southern Ambassador. The group provides campus tours for prospective students and their parents as well as hosting campus guests and dignitaries.
It’s been a rough year for Georgia Southern.
Johnson said the tragedy was the worst for him since a BCM secretary died enroute to a summer missions assignment 10 years ago. Two others were seriously injured in that accident.
BCM VP posts Facebook tribute
GSU BCM Vice President Katie Pursley, in writing on her Facebook page, addressed the struggle that so many are having as they cope with the tragedy.
“Weeks like this are when we see people searching for answers and stumbling upon the overwhelming peace and comfort of our Father. These are the weeks that families become friends and communities become families. These weeks are not because our God is a vicious and hateful God.
“I believe that our Father did not take these girls. I believe that accidents and death happen, and that He makes the absolute most of it for us and for His glory.
“This has been so tragic, but look at the testimony of those that we have lost this week! Their lives were not lost in vain. Their legacy lives on through their actions of service and through their faith. which is already impacting people.
“People are praying that don’t usually pray. People are seeking. I am excited for the day that those praying wonder what they are praying to and realize there is a big God hearing every one of them.
“I am excited for the day that people get to know that big God through the peace and comfort He brings.”