I didn’t hear the news until Sunday morning. My daughter Jenna sent me a text about the wreck.
On Saturday, June 19, 2021, around 2:30 p.m., a vanload of young girls, their ranch director Candice Gulley, Candice’s two children and two nephews are returning home.
Only two hours to go.
Their special beach vacation to Gulf Shores is over, but their summer is just beginning.
Tropical Storm Claudette is dumping torrential rain onto Interstate 65 as they travel. When they are about 35 miles south of Montgomery, vehicles begin to hydroplane.
In a moment’s time, seventeen vehicles collide.
One of these vehicles is the van with the young girls from the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch.
And in another moment, the van catches fire, as would six of the other vehicles that afternoon.
A bystander quickly pulls the driver, Candice, out of the van, but the fire spreads too quickly to save the others.
Eight children die in the van that day.
In a separate vehicle, 29-year-old Cody Fox and his 9-month-old daughter also die.
It’s too shocking to fathom.
I was at the ranch myself six years ago. I remember exuberant life among the girls who lived there. The extraordinary caring of the staff who lived with them.
It’s made this tragedy even more horrific to me.
So I’m reposting below this article I wrote in 2015 after my visit to the Girls Ranch.
It was a good day I’ll never forget. . .
. . .in contrast to June 19, 2021, a horrible, horrible day that many will never forget.
May those who remember be surrounded with God’s love through his people for years to come.
We’re asked to please pray for their ranch family. And for ranch director Candice Gulley who remains in serious but stable condition in the hospital after losing her own 4-year-old and 16-year-old children in the accident.
If you’d like to contribute toward funeral expenses, medical costs for the injured, and counseling for those affectected, here’s the GoFundMe link for the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch.
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FRAME THE MOMENT TO LAST
[originally posted May 11, 2015]
Fourteen young ladies come out of the two houses.
They live there temporarily, when they’re not living with a relative or in a foster home or as a runaway. In these houses they are fed, clothed, cared for.
And on one special day in November, they are about to be framed.
It is Jenna’s idea. These girls aren’t a project to her or a ministry opportunity.
They are real people; they are young friends.
So on this Tuesday a professional makeup artist shows up at the ranch to give free makeovers. A stylist to give new hairdos. And a photographer to make it permanent.
As the mother of the photographer, I get invited to tag along with Jenna and take pictures, too. I knew she’d developed her own friendships with the girls, including one in particular, and I am excited to meet them all myself.
Like most teenage girls, they giggle through the make-up and hair sessions. They gawk at the changes in each other. They haggle over who will wear what, and the stash of extra clothes brought in gets divvied up.
Then it is time for the pictures.
One by one—and then sometimes two by three or four—they strike a pose and flash their best smiles or serious looks for the camera.
Then in no time, the afternoon is over and we pack up our gear, hug goodbye, and drive away.
But it’s not over.
Later that weekend, as Jenna begins editing, she calls me with excitement. The pictures are turning out great. The girls show up as gorgeous as they are.
Despite years of pain, of abuse, or of neglect, their beauty and hope still rise to the top. It looks different on each girl, but it’s definitely there on each of them.
The final step comes a few weeks later in the mailbox. I open the package of fresh photos—printed 5x7s of faith, that someone cares, and that someone is worth caring for.
Jenna matches each picture with a frame. Then carefully wraps and ribbons and later gifts these photos and more to the girls to be amazed at their own beauty.
What will each girl do with her photos?
Some will probably go to love interests, some traded among each other, and some probably tucked away in the next packing box as they move along to the next home.
But I pray that the memory of that day in November travels with them wherever they go. That when they see their pictures, they remember that they are loved, that they are valuable, that their life is framed with purpose.
In a frame, things look more official. More real. More permanent. This is who I am; can you see me?
Life never stays static. But catch a fleeting moment at the right time, and it brings more than pleasure for the day; it carries stability and confidence into tomorrow.
Take the shot, freeze the moment, and capture a memory. A memory of a day getting made up, dressed up, and photographed. There may have been tears before (and bruises—I saw some) and tears after, but on that day, I saw smiles and heard laughter.
That was caught in the photo, in the frame, and hopefully in the heart.
A single day can last much longer if it’s framed properly.
In the daily lives of these teenage girls, already marked by impermanence and uncertainty, moments need to be captured forever.
On that day, we celebrated the moment. The girl. The life.
I hope they will remember. I know I will.
When we read of tragic car accidents or when children die, we all take it personally for various reasons. Share your thoughts in the comments.
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