Community shows strength in face of tragedy as families, friends remember victim, support survivors

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Jeremy Johnson



FORT LUPTON — Small town, big hearts: the Fort Lupton community showed a tremendous outpouring of support last week for the families of four teens involved in a high-speed crash in the early morning hours of June 2 at the intersection of Ninth Street and Park Avenue in Fort Lupton.


The 16-year-old driver and two other teens — ages 12 and 14 – were seriously injured in the crash. A fourth teen, Henri Balthasar McGuiness, was pronounced dead at the scene of the 2 a.m. crash, which police said was caused by driving at excess speeds.

McGuiness was laid to rest June 9 following a funeral Mass at St. William Catholic Church. Authorities have not released the names of the other three youths, nor has any information been released about their conditions. Police said three of the youth were from Fort Lupton, while one teen was from Brighton.

Coming to grips

In the days following a candlelight vigil for the victims June 3 at the United Methodist Church in Fort Lupton, people throughout the community struggled to come to grips with the tragedy that impacted multiple families in Fort Lupton, where degrees of separation are practically non-existent.

For example, Weld Re-8 Superintendent Mark Payler said the news hit hard for the district, not only because some of the teens were students, but because many of the teens’ families served within the district in one aspect or another.

“This has hit us hard as a family of educators,” Payler said. “One school board member had a grandson involved, and our transportation director had his son involved.

“We have been impacted across the district because we are a tight community of educators and all have felt the impact of this tragedy,” he added. “Our collective hearts and prayers go out to those families which have been directly impacted by this tragedy. Words alone cannot express our thoughts and prayers.”

“This rocked the whole town,” said Aspen Sorenson, children’s ministry director at the Crossroads Church in Fort Lupton. “This hits close to home because it could happen to anybody, you know? And being a children’s pastor, it hits close to home for me because I work with kids. One of the teenagers in the accident is the nephew of a woman who attends our church and she’s heavily involved, so this has not just hit close to home in Fort Lupton, it’s hit close to home at Crossroads.”

Like so many others, Sorenson said words couldn’t describe the sympathy she feels for the family of the victims.

“I can’t imagine what those parents are going through … but I know I held my kids a little tighter that night,” Sorensen said.

“They don’t have a name for it when a parent loses a child,” she added. “When a child loses a parent, they become an orphan. But they don’t have a name for this because it’s just so unspeakable and horrendous.”


An outpouring of support

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the community has responded the only way they can: Through continued emotional and financial support.

An online memorial fund for Henri McGuiness appeared early June 5 and by the afternoon, it amassed more than $10,000 in donations. By afternoon on the following day, the site had received 179 donations totaling more than $16,000. As of press time Tuesday mid-morning, the fund was closing in on its $20,000 goal with more than 200 donations.

The McGuiness family responded with the following message: “We are astonished at the love that has surrounded us in this dark hour. We thank you for your prayers, kind words and your friendship. You make manifest the love of Christ to us. We thank you.”

At the Crossroads Church, what was slated to be a regular goServe Day event June 7 turned into a benefit concert for the crash victims and their families.

“We were going to throw a free concert for the community, so people can get to know their neighbors and people can get to know our church regardless of religious affiliation,” Sorensen said. “However, we felt as a church that would be mighty insensitive of us in light of the Fort Lupton accident, so we turned it into a benefit.”

Sorensen said 100 percent of the proceeds from the event, which included grief counseling and services as well as live music, food, raffles and more, would be split evenly between the four families of the victims.

“In the 53 years the church has been around, they’ve always been interested in reaching out to the community through various events,” Sorensen said. “So this really gives us the opportunity to open our doors and say, ‘We’re here for you. We’re open to help in any way we can.’

“With events, situations like this, I think I speak for the rest of the staff and pastors when I say it is absolutely inappropriate to use such an event as a marketing tool. This is not a religious event, it’s a community event,” she added. “Somebody lost a child and there are three others in the hospital. This is not about a church, this is about helping people who may not have the means to get through this on their own.”

To contribute to the memorial fund, visit www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/m5t4/henri-mcguiness-memorial-fund.


Contact Staff Writer Jeremy Johnson by calling 303-659-2522, ext. 217, or by email at jjohnson@metrowestnewspapers.com.