But on the way back Wednesday to Statesville, N.C., the bus carrying the Front Street Baptist Church group blew a tire, veered across a highway median and crashed into a sport utility vehicle and tractor-trailer.
Fourteen other people were hurt in the accident in northeastern Tennessee, including two who were in critical condition.
Inside the Statesville church on Wednesday evening, people were crying and hugging each other. One woman whispered, “It’s going to be all right” while hugging another woman. Police cordoned off the church to prevent reporters from talking to those who attended.
“There was a very long night for all of us,” Front Street Baptist associate pastor Rick Cruz said Thursday morning.
The church has received a tremendous outpouring of love from the community, Cruz said.
“We know God is in control and is able to heal,” he said.
George Stadtfeld, a member of the church for eight years, said Wednesday he knew everyone on the bus. He said his wife, Elaine, had been on the trip but didn’t travel on the bus. He said she called him crying.
“We’re all shaken,” he said. “As bad as it is, they’re all Christians and I know where they’re at. I’ll join them later.”
The church’s Young at Heart Ministry reaches out to older members of the congregation. They go on road trips together and sing in the senior choir.
“They were all friends,” he said.
The wreck left the bus on its side next to the tractor-trailer, lying across two lanes of traffic and extending partially into the median. It was not yet known what caused the tire to blow out.
The bus itself didn’t actually catch on fire, but there was some “heat exposure,” Jefferson County Emergency Management Director Brad Phillips said. Emergency responders were able to remove people rapidly to get them away from the flames and other Good Samaritans provided assistance.