STILLWATER, Okla. — People in this college town grieved again Sunday.
It was about four years after a plane crash killed two women’s basketball coaches and almost 15 years after 10 people died when a plane carrying members and coaches of the men’s basketball team went down.
And it was one day after four people were killed when a woman drove her car into a crowd gathered to celebrate Oklahoma State University’s homecoming football game. Five of the 47 who were injured at the parade were listed in critical condition Sunday.
Worshipers prayed at regular Sunday morning services, and people brought flowers to a makeshift memorial erected at the crash site. They counted on faith and their neighbors to again help them heal.
After a sleepless Saturday night, Anthony Wyatt came to the memorial, the place where he had seen the 2014 Hyundai Elantra speed through the intersection. Wyatt was on a float for his construction firm, based in Ponca City, Okla., about an hour north of Stillwater.
“I can’t get it out of my head,” he said. “It’s horrible — innocent people. It’s not fair. It’s not right.”
About 46,000 people live in this town about 65 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. But the population swells on fall Saturdays when the Cowboys are in town, as thousands of people hold picnics or tailgate parties. The stadium seats 60,000 and usually sells out, and people who can’t get seats watch the game at local bars such as Eskimo Joe’s.
The four who were killed in the crash were identified Sunday as Nash Lucas, 2, the son of an OSU student; Nakita Prabhakar Nakal, 23, a student from Mumbai who attended the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, outside Oklahoma City; and Marvin Lyle Stone and Bonnie Jean Stone, both 65, who were married and were OSU employees.
The driver of the car, Adacia Avery Chambers, 25, faces four charges of second-degree murder, police said Sunday night. Her attorney, Tony Coleman, told the Oklahoman, the largest newspaper in the state, that he did not think Chambers was intoxicated, as was indicated in initial reports, but said that “she’s suffering from mental illness.”
Chambers’s initial court appearance in Payne County District Court is expected Monday, authorities said.
“I drove down here to pray this morning,” Wyatt said of his return to the crash site. “When you see something like that, you can’t erase it.”
Four blocks away, Kent Sampson, the university’s director of student life, led a special prayer for the victims, the community and the jailed suspect before Sunday morning’s regular worship assembly at the Stillwater Church of Christ.
“Father, we just ask that you wrap your arms around these families,” Sampson prayed, his voice cracking.
Sampson was honored at the parade for his decades of service to the university; he has been there for 46 years. He said he has no doubt that Stillwater and OSU will — once again — come together to heal.
“But I think you’ll find here that there will be a sense of community in coming together,” he said.
About four years ago, the Cowboys’ women’s basketball coach, Kurt Budke, and assistant coach Miranda Serna were killed in a plane crash along with the plane’s owner and pilot, former state senator Olin Branstetter, and his wife, Paula.
The four were leaving OSU after its first regular-season game for a recruiting trip to Little Rock. It was determined Branstetter lost control of the single-engine plane.
And on Jan. 27, 2001, 10 OSU men’s basketball players, staff, broadcasters, and the pilot and co-pilot perished in a crash after the pilot became disoriented during a snowstorm. The group was returning to Stillwater after a game in Colorado.
Saturday’s incident occurred about 10:30 a.m. The game proceeded as planned at 2:30 p.m. OSU spokesman Gary Shutt said Sunday night that the decision to play was made after consultation with Big 12 Conference officials and a discussion between university President Burns Hargis and the head of OSU’s regents.
“There were also TV considerations,” Shutt said. “Ultimately, the decision was made to play the game in honor of those who died and were injured.”
Christine Brooks, 57, was at the memorial site Sunday, close to where she was standing Saturday watching the parade with her husband, son and two grandsons, ages 5 and 6.
Brooks said she was too devastated to attend the game after what she witnessed, but she supported the decision to play. The Cowboys defeated the winless Kansas Jayhawks to improve to 7-0.
“They did the right thing,” Brooks said. “Even after the game, nothing here was the same as all the other homecomings I’ve been to.”
Grant Sheets, 20, a junior, came with a friend to bring flowers to the memorial site Sunday. He described the pregame prayer as “really touching and awesome to see.”
“It was a really sad situation, but it was good to see how everyone had the same thoughts about standing together,” Sheets said.
At the nearby First Baptist Church, the Rev. Tim Walker wore a black-and-orange OSU tie as he sought to comfort his congregation.
Before the service, Walker said he expects faith to play a big role in healing this close-knit Bible Belt community.
“Stillwater is a strong community when it comes to faith,” Walker said. “Many churches, many people are involved in church, and I think faith is a very real resource for the people of Stillwater.”