Six girls traveling home after a weekend retreat with fellow churchgoers were killed when a camper broke away from a pickup truck and struck the bus in which they were riding.
A seventh person driving a pickup truck behind the church bus also was killed in Sunday's accident on mountainous terrain on U.S. Route 82 in Artesia.
The westbound pickup truck swerved and a section of the camper being towed by the pickup "tore along the side of the bus," state police Capt. John Balderston said Sunday. The girls, ages 12 to 17, were killed instantly.
The young victims were among about 80 people from Green Lawn Church of Christ in Lubbock, Texas, who had spent the weekend at Pine Springs Summer Camp, an isolated, mountainous retreat in Lincoln National Forest. The camp near Mayhill is about 150 miles southwest of Lubbock.
Back at Green Lawn Church, hundreds of teen-agers and parents sobbed, held hands, and sang hymns after word spread of the accident.
"What do you do in the midst of a tragedy like this?" minister Dale Mannon said in a prayer. "There is nothing pretty about death. We don't pretend to know why these things happen. But we do know that you, Father, know what it is like to watch a child die."
The dead girls were identified as Talitha Beaman, 17; Sara English, 15; Sara Johnson, 13; Megan Flynn; Heather Dauman; and Ashton Qutby. The other girls' ages were not available.
There was no information available about the pickup driver who was killed and Balderston said it wasn't known why the other pickup truck swerved.
Three people were in critical condition and three were in serious condition at Alamogordo and Albuquerque hospitals, officials said. Twenty-one others people were treated and released.
Congregant Sarah Johnson said her daughter was on the trip to Pine Springs Summer Camp but escaped injury.
"Every one of those kids is mine, just as if I had them myself," she said. "There are no words .... Right now, we just need to pray. We know that they are in a better place and it's up to us to be there for the parents."
Written By Pete Herrera.
©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
© 1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.