Photo Showcase: Broken Bow community mourns crash victims
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BROKEN BOW, Neb. — People hugged, wept and prayed Saturday in a shady town square to pay tribute to the victims of a horrific highway collision that shocked and numbed this rural community.
And they gave thanks that the death toll wasn't higher.
Broken Bow started healing its broken heart.
About 600 people gathered in an arc around the landmark gazebo for a morning prayer vigil in the aftermath of the Friday accident that killed three people, including two Broken Bow High School basketball coaches.
Eight students were injured.
The coaches and players were returning from a one-day basketball clinic in Kearney when their school van was hit head-on by a pickup truck just outside Ansley on Nebraska Highway 2. Ansley is 16 miles east of Broken Bow.
Ken Kujath, the Broken Bow High School principal, said in an interview that it's impossible to make sense of the tragedy.
“It's something that happens, and you go from there,'' he said. “We've got both ends of it. We're grieving but we're also blessed that we've got a lot of kids who will be healed and healthy. It could have been a lot worse, so we're fortunate in that regard.''
Killed were coaches Anthony Blum, 24, and Zane Harvey, 38, and the pickup driver, Albert Sherbeck of Ansley, 70.
School officials said students Hunter Campbell, Grayson Minnick, Lane Albus and Marcus Miller were released from hospital care. Scott Gates, Austin Reynolds, Taylor O'Brien and Chad Christiansen remained hospitalized.
“All students are doing pretty well, we're confident of that,'' said interim school Superintendent Virginia Moon, a former Ralston school superintendent.
Blum and Harvey were popular teachers and coaches in the high school of 260 students.
Harvey was a three-sport coach and widely known around the community.
Blum was the energetic newcomer who was building a basketball program. He was from Minden, Neb., and went to college at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Blum joined the Broken Bow faculty last fall as a business and computer skills teacher and head basketball coach.
Harvey, originally from Stapleton, Neb., taught upper-level math classes. He also was the defensive coordinator for the football team, assistant basketball coach and boys golf coach. He had been at the school for 14 years. He was single.
Bill Reichert, the high school band director who has been at the school for 38 years, said he is Broken Bow's oldest faculty member. Blum was the youngest.
“We were best friends,'' Reichert said. “We bought a golf cart together and he was my golfing buddy.''
Blum had a friendliness that made it seem like they had known each other for a lifetime.
“He would always encourage me''on the golf course, Reichert said. “How could you not like a guy who would do that for you?
“He just made everyone feel good around him. He had a magical personality.''
Reichert said the new school year will be tough.
“It will be a hard time for us to get over this,'' he said. “It's going to be a hole in your heart.''
Anne Marie Garner, a Broken Bow senior this coming fall, said both teachers made a big impact her classmates won't forget.
“We live in a town where you think this will never happen,'' she said. “But it did.''
Many students traveled to hospitals in Kearney and Grand Island to be with families and teachers Friday night.
“Today it just hit all of us that it's really happening. That's it not just a bad dream,'' she said.
Garner said classmates plan to erect three crosses at the accident site Sunday.
Ryan Hogue, activities director, said Blum was improving Broken Bow's basketball team. He wanted the players to enjoy the same success he had at Minden High School.
Broken Bow and Minden play in the same athletic conference.
“He was building team chemisty and the kids were buying in,'' Hogue said. “They were going to five or six different (basketball) camps this summer.''
Blum also planned clinics for first-graders to develop basketball interest and skills.
Hogue said Blum's team was playing well at the end of last season, upsetting conference rival Cozad by about 20 points in front of a Broken Bow hall of fame induction night crowd of 1,000.
“The atmosphere. The alumni. The student section was rocking. Anthony was on Cloud Nine,'' Hogue said.
Austin Reynold's father, Todd Reynolds, said, the players would “run through a brick wall'' for Blum.
“He had them convinced they were going to win the state tournament, if they just worked hard enough.”
Pastor Larry DeMoss of Broken Bow Berean Church led the town square service.
“Yesterday afternoon, all of us had things on our mind, some were happy — I was preparing to officiate at an evening wedding — some were working, some were playing, some were getting ready for a fun weekend,'' DeMoss said.
“A few moments later, as news trickled in, we found that our collective heart was broken with the news of the tragic accident just a few miles down the highway. The van carrying our high school basketball team returning from Kearney was almost home when the catastrophe interrupted the lives of families and indeed the family of the community of Broken Bow.''
DeMoss said the community stood together in need of help, comfort, mercy and grace.
“We stand here today with strong emotions — some are confused, some are angry, some are discouraged,'' he prayed. “We all stand here in need of help.''
Scott Harvey, pastor at Evangelical Free Church, and brother of Zane Harvey, said his brother had a strong Christian faith “so we don't have too worry about that.''
“While we're sad, we also celebrate, because we know where Zane's at,'' he said.
Harvey said his brother loved the community, the school, his colleagues and his students.
“Keep praying and we'll all get through this together,'' he said.
Brant Taylor, associate pastor of the Evangelical Free Church, said people ask “Why?'' after tragedies.
It would be better to dwell on hope, he told people gathered in the square.
Taylor asked everyone to hold the hand of the person next to them, and then he led the crowd in reciting The Lord's Prayer.
Fire and rescue volunteers who answered the call to the accident — all but Londa Wood of Berwyn — stood among the crowd. Wood sat on a park bench near the gazebo, a cast securing her left leg.
Wood is an emergency medical technician for Broken Bow and Ansley. She severely twisted her leg attempting to free trapped students from the wreckage.
“It was very chaotic,'' she said. “I did what I was trained to do.''
Wood said a feeling of despair swept over her as she injured her leg. She feared that she would have to stop.
“But the pain quit and my leg supported me, so I continued on,'' she said. “Everybody did everything they could and got them out as soon as they could. My heart goes out to all the families''
Cindy Fox and Blum were co-advisers for a Future Business Leaders of America club that went to Omaha for a state competition.
“The kids performed well for first time being there,'' Fox said. “He was always there for the kids. I learned a lot from him.''
“We lost two good guys,'' she said.
Ed Schaaf, a high school counselor and wresting coach, said students are handling the tragedy surprisingly well.
“They're hurting but they come together,'' he said. “They talk, laugh and tell stories. They get through it the best they can. It's going to be tough. It is tough.''
Hundreds of students have come to the school to meet with teachers and each other. They filled the cafeteria Saturday night.
Schaaf said Blum and Harvey will be deeply missed when school opens in the fall.
“It's going to be hard. We'll get through it. We've got to…we've got a lot of kids that depend on us.''
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