Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ameircan Fork Marching Band pays tribute...

It all started as a very routine Saturday. The American Fork Marching Band left that morning to Pocatello, Idaho to compete in a band competition. A trip that they have made many times before. They performed, swept in all areas, ate dinner and started on their way home. We had a crazy day here at home with two big football games for the boys, football pictures, a temple trip and a dance for Janessa. At about 7:30 p.m. my phone rang. It was Andrew. My heart actually sunk when I saw it was him. I'm always worried about my kids when they are away. Andrew doesn't normally call to "chat" or tell me how he's done in a competition. I have to call him. When I answered I even said, "What's wrong bud? Everything OK?" He said, "Mom, there has been an accident. I am OK. The bus in front of us has rolled on the freeway. But, I just want you to know that our bus is OK. I'm OK." He went on to say that he could see people getting out of the bus and that he thought they were all alright. He said that he would call me with further information in about 15 minutes.

I called Rick and let him know what was going on. At that point I wasn't too worried because Andrew sounded so calm. Rick was nervous and did a search for him on the internet (we have a family locator on our phones for just this type of situation). He saw his location, somewhere in Idaho on I-15. He searched the internet for any news or information. He called KSL to see if they knew anything. They said they had received many calls in the last few minutes and wanted to send reporters there, but they had no idea where the accident was. Rick said, "I know where they are." He explained the GPS locator and told them the location of the accident. They asked if they could call Andrew if they needed and Rick didn't think much of it and gave them his cell number.

We continued to check on things, mostly by texting Andrew and talking to the couple of moms I know. We kept comparing information and trying desperately to find out details and to figure out if we needed to head that direction. We honestly thought everyone on that bus was OK, we kept hearing things like maybe broken bones, girls upset, etc. But then the news came. My friend Marianne called me and told me, just as Rick saw it on the internet and was calling on the other line. One confirmed fatality. My heart sank and I couldn't catch my breath. In that one second it turned into a tragedy, a horrible realization that this was a really bad accident. A few minutes later we learned that it was a teacher. Heather Christensen, the woodwind instructor. A beautiful young teacher had been killed in the accident.

I had Rick come and get me (I had been at a friend's house). We went home and just paced and paced, waiting to hear more. To make matters worse, Nathan started vomiting about that time and we had to deal with that on top of everything else. The night was stressful and unsettling. We watched the internet for as much news as we could get. They told us not to come to Idaho, that they would get the kids out of there as soon as possible.

We turned on the KSL news at 10 p.m. to get an update and we hoped that a reporter was there by then to give us more details. To our surprise, the breaking news report began with photos of the accident by 'Andrew James'. He has always wanted to be a photographer, now he was able to have his photos on the news (granted they were from his cell phone looking out a bus window, so not his best work). Then the newscaster said that he was able to contact one of the students and interview him. I stopped breathing as I realized it was Andrew. I just kept thinking, "Please, don't say anything stupid..." Not that he would, but you never know about a 16 year old being interviewed on the news, anything could happen. He was wonderful though and talked about how they had prayed the minute they realized what had happened. He gave a very accurate report of what was happening and his observations. (Later on, Rick's dad asked, "How in the world did they get him to slow down his speech? He is always talking so fast nobody can understand a word he says!”) His interview was also broadcast as 'breaking news' on KSL radio during the BYU game. He had reported that when they heard that Heather had been killed, they all started singing hymns. His words and reports comforted me, as a parent, that the rest of the band was OK and it warmed my heart that they were in tune with the spirit during this tragic event.

They sat on their buses for about 2 hours and then got onto a UTA bus that transported them to Brigham City where they caught another bus home to American Fork. I went over to the school about 1:00 a.m. to wait for him. There were many, many people there showing their love and support for the band. I would have to guess at least 1,000. It was really amazing to see that kind of concern. Once we got Andrew home, I felt like I could breath again. I don’t know if I have ever been that excited to see a teenager! We talked a lot about the experience. He said the sweetest thing, "I feel so bad for all the girls on that bus. It was mostly flutes and clarinets and I'm sure they were very shaken up and scared. I just keep thinking that I wish it had been our bus instead of theirs (his was the percussion/drumline bus with mostly boys)." Andrew showed some wonderful compassion and character that night that I will never forget.

After we got Andrew to sleep, I called the doctor about Nathan. He had vomited every 20 minutes the entire night. He couldn't keep anything down. She suggested I take him in the Emergency Room, which I did. We were there for a few hours and I had time to just sit next to his bed, while he slept, and think. I thought a lot about Heather. We had learned later in the night that she had jumped up to grab the wheel of the bus when the driver blacked-out. Andrew had said that just a few feet away was a ditch/covert that if the bus would have hit would have been fatal for many in the bus. I thought about how if she hadn't made that courageous move, maybe the bus wouldn't have gone off into the sagebrush, but would've wrecked on I-15, causing many other accidents. Including the bus behind them that carried my son. I thought about how, because she was standing up when the bus rolled, she was thrown from the window and killed. She gave her life for those kids, students that she loved. She didn't have to be on that bus that night. Most of the other leaders drove on their own. She didn't want to leave her students. I thought about what a hero she was and how much I appreciated her. I thought about the family she left behind and how they must be grieving. My tears finally came and I couldn't make them stop. The nurses were really concerned for me as they kept getting glances through the curtains. Finally they came and told me that Nathan would be OK. I told them the situation and that I had just had a bad night. They were sweet to sit and talk to me and let me cry.

I got home at 6:30 a.m. Andrew (who had a very bad cough all night), Nathan and I stayed home from church and slept most of the day. It was a nice, peaceful day for healing. Andrew went to the high school at 6:30 p.m. for a meeting with the band. John Miller (the most amazing band director in the world) and Heather's parents talked to the kids. They told them how much Heather loved them. They told them that everyone that was on the bus is going to be OK. There were a few injuries, but that the last few were released that day, and one more would be released Monday. They had considered not performing at the BYU competition, but realized that Heather would be so mad at them, she would want them to compete. It was a nice healing moment for the kids. Then they had a memorial service with the school and community, with a candlelight vigil that followed. They made plans to dedicate the show to Heather. They also had dog tags for their show, one with their name and one with a relative’s name that had served in the military who they wanted to dedicate their show to. They decided to add Heather’s dog tag to their chains for the rest of the season.

We got to go to their performance at BYU last night. It was better than amazing. It sent chills down my spine. It comforted everyone who was there. Every single band member (of bands all over Utah) wore a red or black ribbon (their school colors). Many schools in Utah had dressed up in red, black and white that day to pay respect to American Fork. The performances were great and there was a wonderful spirit there. I was so excited to see American Fork get there and warm-up. I just couldn't wait to see them play. When they took the stage, it was magical. Everything was perfect and they played and marched better than I have ever seen. Their show honors war heroes from the past. It has WWII music with beautiful photos behind the band. At the end of the performance, the color guard (who had been dressed as Rosie the Riveter) changed into all white costumes and went out into the field with the band. They were equally spaced while the band members slowly went behind them. The pictures turned to reveal old photos of war heroes, mostly relatives of the band members. The last picture was of their fallen teacher, their hero, Heather Christensen. Then, they slowly put their arms out, as to create white crosses, or graves of the fallen soldiers. It was really moving. Then, they added an ending that left no dry eye in the audience. One color guard girl in the middle of the field had a white scarf. She danced over to Heather's picture and placed the scarf and a rose at the base. After the applause, they asked for a moment of silence to remember her. It was really one of those moments you never want to forget.

The BYU Marching Band performed after American Fork. After their performance, they paid tribute to AF and to Heather by playing "Amazing Grace." It was beautiful and very moving. They held up banners that said "Hope" and "Peace" and brought out a lovely arrangement of flowers for the band.

American Fork swept the awards, getting first place. Afterwards, family, friends and other bands joined AF in the parking lot for a fun tradition. They always play their piece, one more time (without marching), before they load up to go. They also sing a song about friends. It was a very healing night for all of those kids, their leaders and I'm sure the family of Heather. It was a wonderful tribute to her and the life that she gave for her students. It couldn't have been said better than a scripture from John 15, along her picture on the field, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

(I'm sorry, but I have run out of time. For now, the pictures will just be located below. I will try and put them in order later.)


Kimbrey-Daniel said...

What a beautiful tribute. So glad Andrew was ok!

Mommason Hillary said...

This was so very beautiful - your personal experience is I know just one of many, but I really am grateful for your explaination. I pray that your Andrew will be ok - as time goes on and he gets to sort out the experience. We were all so luck to have known her. I knew Heather through our experiences with Jordan School district - her smile and positive attitude always drew me to her side. I am sorry for the loss of a sweetheart. The pictures were beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I check in with your blog now and then and I'm really glad I looked in on it tonight.

Cathy said...

Your blog post was beautiful! I knew only bits and pieces of the story, so thank you for filling me in. I'm so glad Andrew and all the kids were OK. What an amazing woman their teacher was..she left them with a great legacy.