ST. FRANCOIS COUNTY, Mo. — Two towns in St. Francois County are trying to come to terms with a tragic accident that has left an 8-year-old boy dead, along with two young children injured.
Missouri State Highway Patrol said it happened around 6:45 a.m. when a pickup truck rear-ended a horse-drawn buggy carrying a family.
"I've been working this area for over 10 years and I have never experienced anything this dramatic involving this community," said Corp. Justin Wheetley of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Five people, ages 10, 12, 21, 19 and 50 were injured. The horse was uninjured.
The 7-year-old who died was also in the buggy.
Shelley Williams said she remembers seeing them pass by on Highway 00 no more than 10 minutes before the accident.
"I just remember his smile," she said about a young boy she saw in the buggy. "He was smiling and he had his little hand up and was like this. I don't know if he was playing a game or if he was really trying to wave at me or what. I just waved back."
She said it wasn't too long after she got to work that she learned about the crash.
"It is just heart-wrenching," she said.
The driver of the pickup stopped and is cooperating with investigators, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
5 On Your Side was told he was on his way to work and is uninjured. There was also a passenger in the car.
Investigators said both are teenagers.
They said it would be several weeks before they could reconstruct the crash and know what caused the accident to occur.
Until then, communities are mourning for the family who lost a child, with four others in the hospital.
There was a vigil held at Long Park in Farmington. About 150 people showed up, heads bowed and holding hands at times for 25 minutes.
"It's been just heavy on my heart all day long," said Karri Thurman, who is from Farmington.
She said the community rallied around her family when her husband faced serious health problems, so it did not surprise her to see the outpouring of support Thursday evening.
The family involved in the accident was on their way to a blueberry farm in Fredericktown. It is called Liberty Blueberry Farms.
"We have had a tragic loss here with our Liberty Blueberry Farms family," said a voicemail for anyone who called the farm on Thursday.
Carl Williams lives near the farm and said he saw the emergency lights this morning.
"Tears just fell," he said.
His daughter knows the family and traveled with them to the hospital.
"I was thinking, a 7-year-old. I'm 97," he said. "They could have taken me and left him. He didn't have to be the one to go."
He then paused for a few seconds.
"I would have taken his place," he said.
5 On Your Side learned the family moved from Kentucky a few years ago. They are part of the Mennonite religion, Christians who tend to shy away from modern conveniences.
Several men we met who are Mennonites in the community declined to speak with 5 On Your Side on camera because they said it would go against their religion.
The Mennonite community in Fredericktown is made up of about 15 families. They all moved from either western Missouri or Kentucky three years ago.
While it's a small group, their impact on Fredericktown and Farmington is noticed by all.
Several families run the popular store, The Home Gardens Community Market.
Shirley Hamilton goes every week.
"I prayed for them all morning," she said.
Some of the employees at the Home Gardens Community Market said they have noticed all the support they have received and that it is appreciated.
Hamilton said they are the kind of people who would "give you the shirt off their back if you needed it."
Carl Williams said his family helped some Mennonites with a property issue. The next thing he knew, they were behind his property, cleaning out a creek that runs on his land.
Williams, who has lived just off Highway 00 for a few years, said cars tend to drive quickly there.
Hamilton said cars speed and said there was another accident on that stretch this week, but between two cars.
There are signs up warning drivers about horse-drawn buggies on the road. The speed limit is 55 mph.
The stretch of the highway where the accident happened is straight with a slight hill, according to a spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol. He added that the hill should not prevent drivers from seeing a buggy.
Investigators told 5 On Your Side a decision on whether the driver will face any charges will only happen after the reconstruction and investigation of the crash scene is complete.