Seattle Salvation Army responds to Aurora Bridge tragedy

North Seattle Community College (NSCC) packed two coach buses full of new students for its customary sightseeing tour on Sept. 24. What was supposed to be a fun, informative day turned tragic.

On the narrow but heavily trafficked Aurora Bridge, the axle of a Seattle tourism vehicle reportedly broke, causing it to collide with the first coach bus from the college.

Four NSCC students died at the scene, and a fifth died later.

As the city reeled from the news, a staff member at NSCC called The Salvation Army Seattle Temple Corps and requested immediate spiritual assistance. Majors Rob and Amy Reardon, corps officers, and Seattle Temple employee David Gregg, along with Lt. Marianne Brands of The Salvation Army Seattle Social Services, reported to the campus right away.

“I’m sorry it took a tragedy like this to make us realize we needed a spiritual presence on campus,” a college administrator told the Reardons.

Just hours after the crash, Rob Reardon sat in a small room at North Seattle Community College with the mother of 18-year-old Ivan Putradando, a student involved in the accident. They called hospital after hospital, but no one had any information about Ivan.

Still, Ivan’s mother held out hope that her son simply hadn’t yet been identified.

Amy Reardon finished counseling a group of students, but didn’t want to disturb what was happening in the small room. A pastor who spoke Indonesian was with Ivan’s mother. After waiting, it was eventually decided that the Reardons would go home. Every possible phone call had been made in pursuit of Ivan, all to no avail.

Yet, Reardon still felt she might be helpful in some small way before she left. She went to the doorway and asked the Indonesian-American pastor if he would like her to pray for him. Counseling in this situation was difficult and she thought he could use prayer on his own behalf. Instead, he asked her to pray with Ivan’s mother.

“The mother never lifted her eyes,” Reardon said. “I could barely make out her facial features, but she let me hold her hand as I prayed and the pastor translated. When I left the room, my husband said to me, ‘Go and hug her.’ I hesitated. ‘Mother to mother,’ he said. Her son was 18. I have a 17-year-old son and a 19-year-old son. I knew how I would feel in her situation.”

Reardon entered the room again and reached around from behind to hug Ivan’s mother.

“She grasped me so very tightly,” she said. “I realized that no one had held her yet. Her husband was in Italy. She must have felt so alone. We clung to each other and I whispered, ‘God is near’ in her ear.”

By Friday morning, Sept. 25, the news had been released that 18-year-old Ivan Putradando did not survive the crash on the Aurora bridge the day before.

“Ivan died that day. And yet, my statement was true: God was near,” she said. “We don’t understand tragedy. We can’t explain it, so why try? But in the middle of it, we can be assured that God has not deserted us.”

Less than a week later, the Reardons attended the vigil at the college. After the service was underway, Ivan’s parents slid into the seats right in front of them. When it was over, they hugged the Reardons and thanked them.

“Their translator told us that they wished to take their picture with us because they wanted to always remember us and the help we had given to them,” she said. “We were honored to do so.”

The Reardons, Gregg and Brands maintained a presence for two weeks after the tragedy, at which time the president of the college proposed that they be given an office and stay for at least six months.

Since then, the Reardons, Gregg and Assistant Corps Officer Lt. Ivan Landeros have been taking turns so that their new NSCC office is staffed weekdays from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The college provides a sandwich board that advertises the Army’s presence as well as “Free Doughnut Monday,” which has helped increase traffic. The Army has served those impacted by the crash as well as students with social service needs.

Landeros encountered a student in the restroom, who told him: “Everyone knows you are here on campus, and everyone’s glad.” The two shared a prayer.

Reardon said that in addition to counseling services, they have helped replace items lost or destroyed in the accident. Students sometimes come to the office to hang out, talking to each other about the accident and how they’ve coped. The staff also visits one accident victim still in a rehabilitation center, while her family is thousands of miles away.

“What initially began as a ministry to those in the crash, and the stunned staff members who felt responsible for them, grew into a spiritual and emotional ministry for anyone on campus,” Reardon said. “Students and staff alike have found the campus Salvation Army office is a place to go for prayer, for guidance, or just to be listened to.”

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