Sunday morning, I opened my Facebook app and began to scroll through the posts that appeared overnight. My eye caught on two photos that included O’rane Williams, the young Jamaican international student who was with us the day of the accident that took Bethany and Katie’s lives.
O’rane spent his Christmas break with our family that year. He had had surgery in September, just a few months prior, for a fungus that had grown inside his brain. I understood his parents preferred he stayed in the states over his break due to the proximity to quality medical care should he need it. He was Alex’s roommate and best friend at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. Alex was Bethany’s boyfriend of two years. So when Alex returned to Sweden to spend his Christmas break with his family, O’rane was invited to spend the holiday with our family.
While O’rane had been to our home before it was generally for a quick in and out visit with Bethany and Alex. He was a tall, slim, and quiet young man (at least around us) with a blindingly beautiful shy smile. He spent several days with us prior to traveling to the Kansas City area to celebrate Christmas with our extended family. David spent those days teasing O’rane and trying to draw him out.
O’rane missed the spicy food of his homeland and David set out to make him an authentic Jamaican dinner. The scales were tipped against David being successful in his endeavors as O’rane has a relative that works as a chef. The meal David prepared was not spicy enough for O’rane’s more desensitized and refined palette so David and O’rane ventured out to Slim Chicken’s for some super spicy hot wings the next day. David had so much fun visiting with O’rane and learning about his culture—we all did.
Prior to leaving for Kansas City, we had a small family Christmas celebration. It has become a bit of a tradition, not because we feel a need to have our own intimate time to open gifts together, but instead because we used it to open the bulkier gifts so that we didn’t have to make room for them in the car. (We are nothing if not practical)! O’rane received flannel lounge pants, a scarf and gloves that night. He seemed surprised that there were gifts for him at all and equally surprised Christmas morning to find that a Christmas stocking had been prepared for him as well.
I remember being crowded in at my sister-in-laws home on Christmas Day and seeing a O’rane at the outer edges of the crowd of young adults just after the extended family exchanged gifts. He looked a bit overwhelmed which wasn’t a big surprise since he was a virtual stranger amid a large, loud, family group, in spite of the fact that Bethany’s cousins made every effort to make him feel welcome.
And then came December 26th. We ate breakfast and packed up and left my in-laws house around noon that day. Since we’d had a late breakfast we opted to stop in Lamar, Missouri, (the halfway point of our trip) to get lunch, which we picked up and ate on the road. During our stop and for awhile after we got back on the road, Bethany, O’rane, David and I discussed evolution and creation theory. At the time, I thought O’rane was a fellow believer-but he was in fact a seeker. We also participated in a side conversation as we left the fast food restaurant about seatbelt use. O’rane had opted not to wear his seatbelt. I recall Bethany telling him that statistically, rear seated passengers who failed to wear seat belts injured belted front seat passengers in accidents because they were propelled forward. I was tempted to ask O’rane to buckle up but decided against it reasoning that he was an adult and I needed to treat him as such. I never would have guessed how important and ironic those two concurrent conversations would prove to be just an hour further down the road.
When our van came to a stop that day, battered, broken and torn, I found myself in a state of shock. As I made my way around the back of the van and turned to find my daughters, I didn’t immediately see Katie. She had a brown hoodie on that day and blended into the shadows cast over the van’s third row seat. I began turning around searching the waist high weeds next to the highway’s gravel shoulder looking for Katie thinking she might have been thrown from the vehicle like her older sister Bethany had been and as I turned O’rane popped up from the weed strewn hill. I remember thinking, “Oh yeah, O’rane is with us” before asking him to stay seated where he was so I knew where to find him. But O’rane, who had sunk back to the ground, stood back up and began moving. I’m sure he was in a state of shock just like I was and I turned back to check on Gracen and then found Katie still securely strapped into her seat.
The next time I saw O’rane, he was stretched out on a back board, neck collar in place, surrounded by a bevy of first responders. I helped a bystander locate O’rane’s suitcase so he would have his medications and that was the last I saw of him that day.
My husband, David, found himself loaded into the same ambulance as O’rane and related to me a humorous account of the experience. Apparently, the paramedic who was caring for O’rane had a thick southern accent. O’rane, himself, understandably had a thick Jamaican accent. David found himself serving as an interpreter to two English speaking individuals that day in the back of that ambulance. O’rane couldn’t understand the paramedics English due to accent and the paramedic was unable to understand O’rane for the same reason. Eventually O’rane was flown to Mercy Hospital in Springfield primarily due to concerns over his recent brain surgery.
As a myriad of concerns spun through my mind for my family, I was also deeply worried about O’rane’s physical well-being and anxious as I had no idea how to contact his parents. At that time I didn’t know exactly where he’d been taken to check on him and I didn’t even know who to ask.
Eventually I learned that the campus police department (yes, the campus has a full-fledged police department, not just a campus security department) had been contacted by the Missouri Highway Patrol and they contacted O’rane’s host family. It was with profound gratitude that I learned that Kim Hubbard immediately drove to Springfield, Missouri, to be with O’rane. Kim knew how to contact O’rane’s parents and she took O’rane back to Conway after he was released from the hospital.
I saw O’rane just a handful of times following the accident. He came to the hospital in Joplin with Alex, the hospital in Little Rock with his mother (who flew in from Jamaica) and Heather Hoyt) who became a very important person in O’rane’s life), and to the funeral. My niece, Christi, befriended O’rane, and he visited her in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, and we saw him as we came through town that particular weekend.
David and I were at a loss for how to handle, for lack of a better word, the young men and women who were so important in Bethany’s life. We cared about them but at the same time we didn’t want them to feel any obligation to us. And for O’rane in particular, we did not want him to experience survivor’s guilt. As a result we didn’t reach out to them much, but would “like” posts on Facebook and such.
So Sunday morning, October 30, 2016, I paused when I saw O’rane’s smiling face and read Heather Hoyts post with a sinking and shocked heart. Less than three years after the accident O’rane survived, he lost his life to the fungus that invaded his brain. He endured and survived six brain surgeries since September of 2013—each an attempt to eradicate that fungus.
My heart is broken.
The world has lost such a bright light!
Last year, on December 26, 2015, the second anniversary of Bethany and Katie’s deaths, I received the following message from Heather Hoyt. It is my consolation; my only hope in sorrow. The note begins with Heather’s initial efforts to minister to O’rane following our collision in December 2013:
“2 years ago…
I was sitting in front of my (then) boyfriend’s house on the phone with students with whom I had volunteered at UCA. I was in shock and silent. My mouth hung open and all I could say was, “Oh God no, Oh God, No…” I had just seen Bethany at a Saudi student celebration Day on campus and had recently met O’rane.
I had to do something, I could not sit and not help in some way…
I called UCA campus police, as I had a friend who was a UCA officer, and I was aware of protocol of notification of school officials in the event of serious happenings with students. All I could think was, “the Boxx family shouldn’t have to do this, and they don’t know me, but I have to try and serve them in any way I can.” I spoke with the police and the next day with a Dean.
Days after, I received a message, from Kim Hubbard, that a student needed a ride to NWA and I heard God speak to me and tell me to take him. It was O’rane and he needed to come back to your family. As I drove him I talked with him about the accident, I talked with him about his feelings and emotions. I told him that God had spoken to me and told me to take him to NWA. He looked at me and got silent. I asked what he was thinking and he told me how he had been angry with God for years. He told me that he tried to speak to God all the time but God never spoke back. He wanted to know what it was like to hear God speak. I told him what it’s like for me but it may be very different for different people, but communication is based on relationship. We began a friendship that day. I had no idea all that God had in store….
Days later I drove a car load of internationals to NWA for the funeral.
5 brain surgeries and 2 years later, O’rane is my little brother and I would give my life for him. I love he and his family so dearly. We had many many talks about Jesus, science, afterlife…etc.
In September, his host mom Kim had been diagnosed with aggressive cancer and in October O’rane was found to have another fungus growth in his brain. Surgery was needed immediately. Kim could not be there as she was undergoing chemo and so I took care of him in the hospital.
The night before surgery my family came to the hospital to bring us dinner and pray over O’rane. One of my sisters stayed late and asked O’rane if we could talk about his soul. He agreed and she proceeded to ask about his hesitations with Jesus. He laid out a myriad of thoughts, most very well thought out, and a few excuses. But he was taking all of the conversation in. He was not ready to make any decisions and went to take a shower. Upon returning from the shower he had a strange look on his face. I inquired and he said, “God spoke to me in the shower.” Just he and God having a powwow in the shower and on his own with no ones leading but the Holy Spirit, O’rane chose Jesus and gave his life to Him. He officially became my legitimate brother, in Christ!
Recently he told me how much he misses Bethany and all they had dreamed about and planned, she, him, and Alex. The best news ever is that he will, in fact, now see her again.
He deeply misses her and dreams about her a lot. He is just now becoming very verbal about it. The dearest thought to my heart about Beth and Katie is that their lives taken has resulted in life being given to O’rane. It’s not how anyone would want salvation to come but Jesus the merciful turned evil for good once again and redeemed our boy, saving his life. Your daughters helped save his life. He was very lost and now he is found.
The good work God began will continue on to the day Jesus returns and there will be a great harvest reaped, in the name of your family. I know where Beth’s head was landing regarding God before the accident and even O’rane had told me how Katie stood up to Beth when she spoke of atheism. He said Beth even made him mad when she did that, but in this I am confident… She was inscribed on the palm of His hand, her soul kept safe and protected having been made perfect by the blood of the Lamb. Her spirit, “mind, will and emotions,” was still being sanctified and in that place she suffered confusion but confusion and rejection even are no match for the unfailing love of the beautiful Savior who held her in his palm declaring, “there is none who can snatch you out of my hand”….not even yourself. She saw in part but now sees in full, praise the name of the forever gracious God- He is wonderful!
On Christmas Eve this year, O’ranes host Mom, Kim Hubbard, met Jesus face to face and celebrated her first Christmas in heaven. O’rane is aware and will be returning for school Jan 5. He spoke with her one last time a few days before he left for Christmas. He had just been given the results of his 3 month MRI, my text from him read, “there’s no more crap in my head” (best text I’ve ever received). He spoke with Kim for the last time. He has seen so much loss in the past 2 years, Beth and Katie, sheffy (best friend at UCA- car accident), cousin (committed suicide), and now Kim. He is wondering why not him…God is going to do something amazing with his life…we will watch and see!
So 2 years later and amidst the incredible sorrow and loss, life has been born. If O’ranes friendship with Beth, vacay with your family, the accident and Kim being his host mom, had not happened, things might look very different in his world- I know they would in mine.
My heart aches with your family. My heart rejoices in Salvation sweet and sure. It’s bittersweet and beautiful and I don’t mind saying so. You are so brave. I hear the words of Jesus to your girls,
“Arise my darling, my beautiful one, and come along. For winter is past and the rain is gone.”
-Song of Solomon
May these words bring some joy in the night season.
My heart aches for O’rane’s family. It crushes me to think about what they are suffering today.
It is too painful.
I know too much.
I wish I could shield them from it, and yet that deep, dark well of grief is filled in proportion to the love and joy they have for their son and brother. (By the way, I know I used the present tense in that last sentence. It was not an error or oversight).
Love doesn’t die . . . It doesn’t diminish or fade away . . . It is a gift that resides in the heart forever.
O’rane has a legacy that lives on in the lives of friends and family and acquaintances. His smile, his laughter, his thoughts, his actions touched and changed those around him every single day of his life without conscious intent. His very existence changed the world in immeasurable ways. And while he is separate from us here and now, that won’t always be the case. O’rane went to the house of mourning, too many times in my opinion. However, he took it to heart and pondered its meaning and learned from it.
“A good name is better than precious perfume,
And the day of one’s death better than the day of one’s birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
Than to go to the house of feasting,
For that [day of death] is the end of every man,
And the living will take it to heart and solemnly ponder its meaning.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
For when a face is sad (deep in thought) the heart may be happy [because it is growing in wisdom].
The heart of the wise [learns when it] is in the house
But the heart of fools is [senseless] in the house of
~ Ecclesiastes 7:1-4
I will probably never understand why young people die—why children proceed their parents in death. It overwhelms my heart with sadness and sorrow. I will never be able to explain it to another, and frankly, no explanation would ever be adequate to justify such a loss. A fellow bereaved parent shared these verses from Isaiah 57:1-2 at a recent support group meeting. I like how they are rendered in the NIV and NLT translations, so I am sharing both here and hope you will ponder the significance when you wonder why . . .
“The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” ~ New International Version
“Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.”~ New Living Translation
And from the Matthew Henry Commentary on Isaiah 57:1-2
“The righteous are delivered from the sting of death, not from the stroke of it. The careless world disregards this. Few lament it as a public loss, and very few notice it as a public warning. They are taken away in compassion, that they may not see the evil, nor share in it, nor be tempted by it. The righteous man, when he dies, enters into peace and rest.”
I’m praying that God will bless, comfort and strengthen the Williams family in the difficult days, weeks, months and honestly, the years ahead. Praying they will be aware of His presence and love especially when they feel weary and worn; broken and lost, alone and lonely as they miss their son and brother.