Chattanooga, Tennessee has once again shown tremendous strength the face of tragedy after a school bus filled with Woodmore Elementary School children slammed into a tree, turned over, and split in half.
The crash, which occurred Monday - just over a year after five Chattanooga servicemen were killed by a gunman motivated by foreign terrorist organization propaganda - killed at least five children and left six others hospitalized in an intensive care unit. Of the five deaths, three of the children were in fourth grade, one was in first grade and the other was a kindergartner. There were 37 students involved in the crash, which happened just about a mile from the school.
"Five is a cursed number in our city right now. We are ... dealing with an unimaginable loss," Mayor Andy Berke said. "The most unnatural thing in the world is for a parent to mourn the loss of a child. Today, the city is praying for these families."
Local stations in Chattanooga - dubbed the "most Bible-minded city in the U.S. by the Barna Group - reported it took emergency crews more than two hours to extract the students off the bus. Clumps of backpacks, clothing and other items were left behind as ambulances raced to the wreckage.
Authorities arrested the bus driver, 24-year-old Johnthony Walker, charging him with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving. The bus was traveling at a "high rate of speed, well above the posted speed limit of 30 mph," police said this morning. He is being held on a $20,000 bond, and a preliminary court date has been set for Nov. 29.
While reeling from the horrific incident, Chattanoogans came together in a show of unity, lining up at local Blood Assurance locations to help the victims involved in the tragedy, setting up GoFundMe accounts and other funds to help the victims and their families, donating food and other items, and offering up prayers for those affected using the hashtag #PrayforChattanooga.
Wrote R&B artist Usher: "I am heart broken by the #Chattanooga bus crash that took place yesterday. Please keep my hometown and all the families in your prayers."
David Carroll, co-anchor of Channel 3 Eyewitness News, put it this way: "As always, Chattanooga, along with our surrounding cities and counties, and strangers from far away will give blood, help with medical and funeral expenses, and shower the Woodmore family with love. It's what we do. We will also watch with interest, as our questions slowly get answered. We want to know how it happened, why it happened, and how we can keep it from happening again.
What else can we do? We can give our own babies a hug every chance we get, no matter how old they are. They're still our babies. And we can send up a prayer for these heartbroken families in the depths of despair."
A memorial service will be held tonight at 6 p.m., at New Monumental Baptist Church in Chattanooga, near Woodmore Elementary, in honor of the bus crash victims, a church spokesperson told The Gospel Herald.