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Sixteen Is Too Young To Die

April 19, 2016

My son is hurting and there’s nothing I can do. I didn’t know River Ackley. And if not for a trick of geography, her story would have simply been one of so many other accident statistics, to me anyway. To her family, and to her friends, her story is a tragedy. Friday night, while travelling with some friends, the car River was driving in was hit by a distracted driver. He was looking at his GPS and didn’t realize the light hadn’t changed. He t-boned, the SUV River was in and it careened into a pole. Three of the teenagers were hospitalized. River was the only casualty. 

(Photo Credit: River Ackley’s “Gone Too Soon” GoFundMe Account)

She was 16 years old and a sophomore at Pleasant Grove High School. There are 2500 kids at PGHS, four of them, all sophomores, are mine. The odds that one of my kids was friends with River was pretty high. My kids all have separate groups of friends. Maybe it’s the large number of kids available to meet. Maybe it’s the fact that we live in a neighborhood with lots of kids. Maybe it’s just a desire to not hang out with your siblings. 

Only one of my kids was good friends with River. 

As a parent, your worst fear is that it will be your child that isn’t coming home one day. When a tragedy hits this close to home, there’s a sense of relief that my kid wasn’t in that car. But, there’s also a sense of guilt. Maybe it’s survivors guilt. Maybe it’s simply the guilt you feel from having any sense of relief when confronted by tragic news. Like I said, if it weren’t  for my kids, River’s story would simply be a tragic story on Facebook. 

And, I’m reminded (by myself mostly) that this tragedy isn’t about me. But, it is about me. How can it not be when it touches those I love? What do you say to a 16 year old child when one of his friends is taken so unexpectedly and violently? How do you comfort him? 

I remember being 16. I was invincible. My friends and I got into any number of situations that might have turned out badly, but didn’t. River didn’t have her seat belt on, but given the force of the initial impact, it probably wouldn’t have made any difference. The car she was riding in, while being driven by another teen, wasn’t speeding, wasn’t being reckless, wasn’t at fault. How do you prepare your kids for that? 

Don’t get into any unexpected accidents? Avoid being struck by a distracted driver?

And how do you explain the injustice of the fact that a 16 year old girl who was a passenger, who had no control over either car is the one who had to die and the driver of the truck that hit her lives? I could go through the physics of how much safer the person in a head-on collision is over the person in a t-bone collision. But, that doesn’t address the randomness, nor the sense of loss. 

The first person to die from my high school graduating class, died in college. His name was Danny Murdock. He was struck in Provo Canyon by a car that drifted over the center line. We had been close in high school, but drifted apart as people going off to college will. I remember thinking how he would never get married, or have a family of his own. I remember thinking what a loss it was for both him and those left behind. 

How much more when the victim is still a child? 

My son is working through it. He’s at times angry, other times mournful, and still other times simply numb. It pains me to see his pain. I recognize that his pain, my pain and the sorrow that his friends feel, is nothing compared to what River’s parents and siblings and family are feeling. Pleasant Grove, is a town of about 40,000 people. It’s a fairly tightknit community. 

When one of us mourns, we all mourn. 

Rest in Peace, River Ackley. Gone too soon.

(You can contribute to a GoFundMe account to help the Ackely family during this difficult time, by clicking here.)

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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