LAKE BUTLER, Fla. – This small north Florida town planned to gather Friday night for a candlelight vigil to mourn the seven children killed in this week's fiery crash and their grief-stricken grandfather, who died a short time later of a heart attack.
Five children of Barbara and Terry Mann were killed in Wednesday's crash, along with two of their nieces. Their car was crushed and burst into flame's when a tractor-trailer slammed into them when they stopped behind a school bus. The children's ages were 1 to 15. Nine children on the bus were injured.
Friends and relatives stopped Friday to pray and pay their respects at a flower-covered cross placed with seven teddy bears at the crash scene on a rural, two-lane highway. The truck driver, Alvin Wilkerson, has not been charged and the Florida Highway Patrol's investigation is continuing.
"I'm angry. Why couldn't he have stopped? I just don't know how he couldn't have seen them," family friend Mattie Higginbotham said Friday. She had traveled to Lake Butler with her husband from Jacksonville to pray for the children and their families.
Liz Scott, who is Barbara Mann's aunt, was at the family's home Thursday night. She said there was a lot of crying and reminiscing and "talking about some of the funny things the kids would do."
The car's driver, 15-year-old Nicky Mann, was Terry Mann's daughter from a previous marriage. The Manns had adopted three of the other victims — Elizabeth Mann, 15; Johnny Mann, 13; and Heaven Mann, 3 — and were supposed to finalize the adoption of 20-month-old Anthony Lamb on Thursday. The other children killed were the Manns' nieces, Miranda Finn, 8, and Ashley Keen, 13,
Scott said her niece, who also goes by Jeannie, was devastated after losing her children and father all within a few hours.
"I think she's still in denial. That's devastating to lose all your children like that and then your father," she said. "Jeannie was sitting around, kind of numb."
"We're just all asking why this happened. We don't know what God's reasons were for this," she said.
Funeral services for the victims will begin Monday.
All nine students on the bus and its driver were injured. On Friday, three children remained hospitalized in serious condition and another, Dalton Sumner, 11, was released. The rest were treated and released earlier. Shands hospital said it had no information on the bus driver, Lillie Mae Perry, who had been listed in stable condition Thursday.