A close family friend of two children killed in a fiery collision involving a church van on the way to Disney World says their Louisiana community is left reeling over the tragedy.
“We’re doing the best we can,” Candice Lemoine, of Marksville, Louisiana, tells PEOPLE. “It’s just tragic when the kids saved their money to make this special trip and never made it there.”
“Our entire community is praying and coming together.”
On Thursday afternoon, two semi-trucks and two passenger vehicles — a passenger van and a mid-size sedan — were involved in the fiery wreck on 1-75 in Florida. Their collision caused nearly 50 gallons of diesel fuel to catch fire. Of the seven people killed, five were children, authorities from the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) tell PEOPLE.
On Friday afternoon, the United Pentecostal Church organization spoke on behalf of the Avoyelles House of Mercy in Marksville about the crash.
In a Facebook post, they confirmed that Sister Karen Descant, who is the wife of the church’s pastor, Eric Descant, and two other women were injured in the crash.
“In addition, nine children were also on the van,” the statement continued. “Sadly, five of those children did not survive the accident. Pastor Descant was not with them, but is at the hospital there in Gainesville with those who survived.
“Sister Karen Descant has seven broken ribs, a broken collarbone, multiple bruises, cuts, etc. Pastor Descant’s words were, ‘She is pretty banged up. One of the ladies is pregnant and pretty banged up, but doctors have been able to keep her and her unborn baby stabilized. The other lady is not as severely injured, but is still in the hospital. The four children all have injuries, but the medical staff feel that all of them will heal and recover.
“One of the five children who died in the accident, was the granddaughter of Pastor Descant.”
According to Lemoine, who knows two of the families that lost children in the incident, multiple organizations have come forward to pay for everything from caskets to medical bills. Lemoine knew two of the children who died in the crash and confirmed they were 13 years old and 14 years old.
They were all winding down their two-week Christmas break, she adds.
A Fundraising page was also created to help raise money. Although Lemoine wasn’t a member of the church, she says that the church’s youth members raised money for the trip “as a little treat” while the kids were out of school.
The other two people killed in the collision were the adult male drivers of the two semi-trucks.
Lemoine believes that after the five children are identified by family members, they will fly them back home for funeral and memorial services.
On Thursday afternoon, one of the semi-trucks that was traveling northbound on the highway collided with a passenger vehicle, sending both vehicles through the guardrail and into the southbound lanes. The vehicles then collided with the church van and another semi-truck.
A helicopter helped search for victims who may have been in nearby woods after being ejected from the van, which overturned in the collision. Both semi-trucks caught on fire.
The names of those deceased were not immediately released, as the Florida Highway Patrol said during the press conference they have not completed notifying all next of kin.
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