Grieving with Hope

Wednesday, April 26, 2006, was a bright spring day and events were in full swing that would culminate with the inauguration of Dr. Eugene B. Habecker ’68, as President of Taylor University. Shortly after 8:00 p.m., a vanload of Taylor students and Creative Dining Services (CDS) staff members were returning to Upland after setting up a celebratory banquet on the former Fort Wayne campus when a semitrailer rig crossed the median on Indiana Interstate 69 and struck the van, killing five of the van’s nine occupants—CDS staff member Monica Felver and students Laurel Erb, Brad Larson, Betsy Smith, and Laura Van Ryn—and leaving the rest with serious injuries.

In the moments following the crash, rescuers believed one of the seriously-injured survivors, Whitney Cerak, was in fact Laura Van Ryn, a mistake that would be revealed several weeks later as Cerak recovered from her injuries. The tragic mistaken identification presented both families with platforms from which they elegantly shared their faith in Christ to a worldwide audience. They have shared their story, in part, through their co-authored book, Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope.

Throughout the remainder of the evening and into the early morning hours, Taylor students, faculty, and staff, joined by members of the surrounding communities, packed the Rediger Chapel/Auditorium to worship, pray, and grieve together. After much prayer and deliberation, inauguration activities went forward but were redirected from what had been a celebratory theme to one that honored the lives of those who had died.

Dedicated on the two-year anniversary of the accident, Taylor University’s Memorial Prayer Chapel memorializes not only the lives of those who died in 2006, but each Taylor student, faculty, and staff member who went home to be with the Lord while at Taylor. Thousands of people whose lives were impacted by the events of that day have visited and it remains a beloved place on the Taylor campus.