Thoughts and mourning: Bowling Green tragedy

For Bowling Green Greeks and for the BG alumni still connected to the university, I feel that this morning’s tragic news of three sorority sisters dying in a car accident is Bowling Green’s “you remember where you were when” moment.

All day long, my Facebook has been full of fellow Falcon alumni and undergrads expressing their condolences. From talks I’ve had with friends today, it is evident that the sympathy is heartfelt. While it doesn’t mitigate the tragedy, the support and genuine concern from the BGSU community is inspiring.

It’s not people casually expressing their condolences in passing. It’s legitimate grief for the university, the sorority, and the families. Even though so many of us might not have known the three girls personally, we are united in a love for the BGSU Greek community.

I woke up a little bit earlier then I intended to wake up this morning. Before going back to catch a few more minutes of sleep, I decided to check Facebook. A friend’s status talked of something tragic happening in Bowling Green, but her sentiments were vague, and I started looking into the matter. The Toledo Blade was reporting that three undergraduates had died in an accident on I-75. Now I was awake.

As I did more research, I learned that all three students had been sorority sisters in Alpha Xi Delta. As much as I love Bowling Green, when a tragedy affects the Greek community, it hits me all that much more. Maybe it shouldn’t. But it does.

All day, I’ve been troubled by the thoughts of the tragedy which happened. Images come to mind of these young girls, excitedly beginning their spring break at one of the most exciting times of the semester. And in a flash, the world changed. Two of the students died at the scene of the accident, a third shortly after.

It’s like a scene from a bad movie.

I think about Alpha Xi Delta. The girl who lost a roommate, a big sister, a best friend, a recruitment “rush crush,” a PNM class sister, the friend who walked to class with you. But not just one tragedy. That loss multiplied by three. Three beautiful faces on the composite photo that – each time they’re seen – will bring back the memories and the grief for those whose light was taken from this world far too soon.

One of the articles showed a picture of the car after the crash. My heart sank. It’s a miracle that anyone survived. Another article showed pictures of them. Beautiful, vibrant women who had their entire lives ahead of them.

I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to lose a fraternity brother as an undergraduate. Let alone multiple brothers in one tragic twist of fate. It would have been utterly devastating.

You go away to college and go Greek and when you’re in school, those people are your family. You laugh with them, fight with them, and share the magic that is the college experience with them. As an alumnus, not a day goes by when I don’t talk with one of my fraternity brothers from college. I see them at events and have dinner with them. I talk to them on the phone. I communicate with them through texting, Facebook, and other social media. It’s a bond that, unless you were Greek, I think you struggle to truly understand or appreciate.

I’m not sure if anyone will ever read this. Some may wonder why I even wrote this. It’s just how I deal with tragedy. I write about what I feel. As I think about the stresses in my life, in times like these, it’s striking how irrelevant those things truly are.

For Alpha Xi Delta, the chapter can get better or get worse in the shadow of what has happened. I can only hope that they choose to succeed and continue to be the strong chapter that they always were when I was a student. I know that there are countless BG alumni who are there to be supportive.

I pray for the two sisters in Alpha Xi who survived the accident, that they can have quick and successful recoveries, and that the long term physical affects would be minimal.

Rest in peace: Sarah Hammond, Christina Goyett, and Rebekah Blakkolb. I hope that your families find some comfort in the support of the BGSU family.

To the Bowling Green student body, to the BGSU Greek community, to the women of Alpha Xi Delta, and most especially, to the families of the victims of this unthinkable tragedy, I give my most sincere condolences and send all my love.

God bless.

Joshua Benner
About the author: Josh Benner is a 2008 graduate of Bowling Green State University and an alumnus of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. He served as the president of the BGSU Interfraternity Council from 2007-08. Josh currently lives in Columbus where he is in graduate school and serves as the current Chapter Advisory Board Chairman for the Phi Delta Theta chapter at the Ohio State University.

47 thoughts on “Thoughts and mourning: Bowling Green tragedy”

  1. I am reading and I do NOT wonder why you wrote this. My feelings echo yours and my heart goes out to this chapter, especially the 2 women who survived the accident and the 5 in the second car of the caravan. While I did not attend Bowling Green, I concur with your empathy and grief as a member of the larger Greek community. Sending strength and hope to the women of Bowling Green’s chapter and the entire Alpha Xi Delta national organization.

  2. Josh – this is very well written my friend. I believe that you hit the nail on the head with this one. This tragedy has brought up alot of memories of the aftermath of Tom’s death while I was an undergrad…and feeling the overwhelming support of the greek community for myself and Lambda Chi. I actually had a conversation with Mr. Hayn today about the girls of Alpha Zi Delta and how they have a long road ahead if them. The one positive thing I have is that the President of Alpha Zi Delta is also my girlfriends little sister. I spent most of yesterday with her talking with her and supporting her. In the days that lie ahead she is going to be challenged more than she ever has been. Who would have thought almost exactly 6 years after I was in her same shoes…I would be able to help guide her in the right direction. I guess its all part of the plan.

    Regards,
    Joe Koval
    Class of 2007

    1. Thanks so much for sharing Joe. It’s such a crazy coincidence that you happen to be connected to their president. It’s a blessing in disguise. I’m sure you’re insight and past experience will be immensely helpful. Not being a Lambda Chi, it’s impossible for me to fully understand what you guys went through, but I know it was extremely difficult. I still remember the BG memorial for Tom: Michael Brown and Dr. Binder speaking, and the wonderful speech from Tom’s brother. Such trying times.

      I would assume BG will do some sort of memorial after spring break. If so, I’m seriously considering making the trip up for it.

      Once again, thanks for sharing your experience. I can only express sorrow for what has happened, but you and your brothers can actually relate.

      I hope Alpha Xi Delta knows how much support they have from alumni.

  3. I saw a link to this posted by one of my friends on Facebook. I read through the entire article and not once did I wonder why you wrote this. I am an undergraduate student at BGSU. Early yesterday morning my mom called me and woke me up. I could tell in her voice that something was wrong and as soon as she told me what happened, I was wide awake. I did not know the girls personally, however, I knew who they were. Many of my friends in the BGSU Greek community did know them, and It breaks my heart seeing them all suffering from this loss. This article was written very well. Thank you for giving your thoughts to the BGSU community.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing. It’s been amazing to see how much love the BG undergraduate and alumni community has shown. I can’t imagine something so massively tragic happening when I was a student. Thanks again. Have a fun and safe spring break.

  4. My daughter is a member of Alpha Xi Delta she lived in the room next door to Tina. She sat next to Becca every Tues and Thurs. in class. The women are Alpha Xi Delta are truely lovely and unique. Thank you for your beautiful words as I believe they will bring comfort not only to the families who hearts are shattered, but also to the Ladies of Alpha Xi Delta, and the entire BGSU community.

    1. Thanks for sharing. I’m so sorry for your daughter. The bgsu family is so wonderful. I’ve talked to so many other alumni who are so devastated by what happened. I hope the women in Alpha Xi know this and that in some small way, for them and the families who are in the midst of such unthinkable tragedy, the knowledge of the fact that so many of us share in their grief could be a small glimmer of grace. Thanks again.

  5. Leave it to you, the wonderfully inspiring-Josh Benner, to sum up how we are all feeling. Since we both went through our greek experiences parallely, I know it hits home to not only us, but to the thousands of other Greek BGSU students and alumni who also shared our experience. It is tragic to think about this happening to anyone with so much to live for in their lives. Thank you for taking the time to use your powerful words to ease th pain of many….

    1. Hey Emily! I appreciate the kind word, and thanks so much for sharing. I’ve talked to so many people from BGSU, and I feel like the BG family has taken this loss so hard. With respect to that, I can’t imagine going through this as a student (while obviously realizing that it is that much more difficult for the families). It’s just so sad. Thanks again for writing.

  6. Josh, thank you for this. I am a native of Michigan and went to school in Columbus. Passing by BGSU on I-75 was a routine trip for me. I have a few friends that went to school at BG and one of them posted this message on her facebook page. I never set foot on campus, but I somehow feel a connection with this tragedy that is too deep to ignore.

    The girl’s families, friends, peers and the school are in my thoughts. Your words, Josh, have stretched many miles and captured my attention.

    1. thanks so much for reading, and for sharing. It’s definitely struck a chord with so many, regardless of their relationship with the university. 3 beautiful young women instantly taken from the world in an accident that seems like it shouldn’t have happened. It’s a cold reality. Again, thanks for sharing.

  7. How far you’ve coming from the Not News freshman columnist. Proud to be a Falcon at heart, proud to share this on my page. Thanks for putting my thoughts to words before I even had the chance.

    1. that’s very kind of you to say. Thanks so much for that (put a smile on my face). It’s definitely a tragedy that has had a far reaching impact and I appreciate you reading my thoughts on it. I hope things are going well.

  8. In such tragic times, your words bring peace to many! I am proud to say I am a student at Bowling Green State University! We have such a strong and supportive community!

  9. Your blog was posted on one of my friend’s FB accounts and I just wanted to say that your words beautifully expressed the feelings behind this tragedy. I went to BGSU as an undergrad in 2001-2005 and this tragedy took me back to my freshman year Spring Break when a group of girls from BGSU were traveling back from Panama City Beach were in a horrible accident and also lost their lives as well. Those girls were about an hour behind us in our travels coming back from the same destination. We were experiencing car troubles the entire way home and for the longest time I couldn’t help but think…what if that was us?? I am now back at BGSU finishing up my Masters degree and all of those thoughts and feelings came rushing back when I heard about this tragedy. Although I was never a part of the Greek Community, my heart goes out to all who were connected to the girls. It is times such as these that I question…what is the purpose of something like this? These girls had so much going for them…why did this happen??

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts…as your words have touched so many who have been connected to this tragedy in a variety of ways.

    1. thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. It’s definitely difficult in tragedy to ask “why?” Because I don’t think there’s a good reason. At least not a good answer that we’ll ever know in this lifetime. While this probably isn’t the ultimately purpose of tragedy, I do think it is a reminder that life is frail and no one owes us tomorrow. We must really value each day and the new opportunities it gives us to love others and spread light. Thanks again. Sorry I didn’t respond to your thoughtful note sooner.

  10. Joshua Benner
    A few of my friends have been posting this in twitter. I had just gotten up and decided to read this. It is so beautiful, it put tears in my eyes. I am a Delta Zeta at BG and a bunch of us were really close to the girls who passed away. This note ment a lot to us and truely hit the nail on the head. It is so true on how close the Greeks are, undergrad or alumni, we are all one family. Thank you so much.
    DeltaZeta Love,
    molly

    1. Thanks so much for sharing Molly. I appreciate your thoughts. I can’t imagine what AZD and the girl’s families are going through. But also, to you and your sisters who knew the three who passed away, I’m sincerely sorry. The healing process is definitely going to be community wide. Thanks again.

  11. Job well done Josh. I’m an Alpha Xi alum from Alma college, living in the Detroit metro area and your words reached me. My heart is breaking for the families and community. May they find peace in the good times they shared and comfort knowing that thoughts and prayers are pouring in from many different places.

  12. Thank you for writing this- I am a BG alum and was president of my chapter, Gamma Phi Beta in 1989. So many of my sisters have posted their prayers and thoughts for Alpha Xi Delta , the families and the BGSU Greek community. We are all so heartbroken for the families , Alpha Xii and the commuity. We are truly a family together- thank you for expressing exactly what I’ve been feeling .

  13. Very touching and beautifully written article. I am an Alpha Xi Delta alumna from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. I am still close friends with sorority sisters and am an alumna volunteer to our organization. I cannot imagine dealing with such a terrible event, as an alum, sister, and moreso as a parent. I have two little girls, who I hope have a wonderful sorority experience one day. This article will certainly help people organize their thoughts about this tragedy, as it did for me. Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much for taking time to write and sharing your thoughts. It’s a tragedy that has definitely reverberated throughout the Greek world. It’s heartbreaking to think of those young women and what their loved ones must be going through. Thanks again for writing.

  14. Josh-

    This article is so wonderfully written. I am a current member of Alpha Xi Delta and president at Defiance, just 45 minutes away from BGSU. My heart has ached for these girls since the moment I head about it. The fact that we were just with the members 2 weeks ago at Area Wide made it just that much harder to comprehend. Thank you for writing this!

  15. Beautifully written…..from an BGSU Alpha Xi Delta Alumni (2002) who also lives in Columbus. And for those of you who did lose the 6 friends our senior year in 2002 (the beautiful 6 who were driving home from Florida)………..10 years ago about this time next week…..you are never the same but these girls and anyone we have lost will touch us forever and we will forever remember them.

    1. thanks so much for sharing. The 2002 accident was a couple of years before my time at BG, but I know people who were impacted by it, and you’re right, the memory will live on forever in the lives they touched. Thanks again for writing.

  16. Even though I am a 1981 graduate of BGSU, I was also and Alpha Xi Delta. This horrendous tragedy took me back immediately to my Alpha Xi House, my roommates, my Big and Little, my friends there, our cook and house mom, the room I lived in. Thank you for putting into words so much of what I feel.

  17. I am an alpha xi, loyal and true……i am thankful for the members of the greek community, and i greatly appreciate your piece. Its true that many people do not understand the bonds and love shared if you are not greek, but it is so special in life and in death. Thank you for writing this piece. – nat deen, university of mount union, class of ’07

    1. Jordan, thank you. I wasn’t sure if anyone in your sorority would ever even read this. All of you have my deepest condolences. I struggle to fathom the magnitude of what you must all be going through. There are so many in the BGSU family who sincerely mourn with you. I hope you guys know how much love there is for the chapter. May God’s grace be with all of you – and with the families – during this difficult time.

      Thanks again for commenting (for what it’s worth, I really appreciate you saying that).

  18. Your statement, “As I think about the stresses in my life, in times like these, it is striking how irrelevant those things truly are,” is so true. Great article, and my prayers are with the BGSU community.

  19. Beautifully written Josh. While I don’t know the sisters of Alpha Xi Delta at Bowling Green, my heart aches for them. I am an AZD alum from Cal State at Fresno and lost two sisters while active in the chapter in the early 90s. AnneMarie and Jeanine are often in my thoughts and their loss, while incredibly painful, has taught me to show my loved ones and those I care about how much I do care and appreciate them. I, too, pray for those sisters that were lost…and even more for their families and sisters and friends that remain to mourn them. Thank you for following your inner voice to write this story.

    1. Thanks so much for writing. I appreciate your feedback. You certainly have a perspective that I (and thankfully most Greeks) will never have, knowing what it’s like to lose people in your chapter. Thanks again for sharing.

  20. Thank you very much for your words – they were right on. I am a proud Alpha Xi and BG Alumni (2006). My heart hurts for the girls that are a part of this sorority as I look back and know that at any point that could have been any of my friends. I can’t imagine what the three families are feeling and what they are going through – I can only pray for their strength to heal this horrible pain. The two girls have a long road ahead and I pray for their speedy recovery. Prayers to all.

    1. Thanks so much for writing in and expressing your feelings on this tragedy. From talking with people on here and discussions I’ve had with friends, this has certainly had a profound impact on the BG Greek community (present and past).

  21. As many other people have said, thank you for writing this. It has been hard for me to exactly pin down how I’m feeling and how this all has affected me. I am a Sigma Kappa alum and even though I was only there for one year last year, I feel such strong ties to the Greek community. It’s been hard for my non Greek friends and family to understand why this hit me so hard, even though I was not close friends with the girls.

    Sigma Love and All of Mine,

    Brina

    1. Thanks so much for writing. This tragedy has definitely had an impact on so many. I think so many of us Greeks are so shaken because we know they could have been our sisters or brothers and try to wrap our minds around how difficult this time must be. Thanks again.

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