This story has been updated.
When six-year-old Emma Katherine Longstreet of Lexington passed away this past Sunday, she left behind a family that consisted of a mother, a father, and three older brothers.
But she also left behind a larger family, one tied to Longstreet not by biology but by faith -- the 2,687 members of Northside Baptist Church.
Longstreet and her family were heading to the church this past Sunday morning when alleged drunken driver, Billy Patrick Hutto, Jr., 26, of Gilbert, slammed into the side of the family's van. The collision killed the Midway Elementary School first-grader, and injured her father, David, Emma's three older brothers, and a passenger in a third vehicle.
David Ford, a family friend and Northside's children's minister, said he was one of the first to arrive at the hospital.
"It was tragic," said Ford who, along with his wife, Lori, also a church employee, became fast friends with the Longstreets shortly after Emma and her family joined the church.
Tragedy has hit the church before, Ford said, "but this is probably one of the most tragic events that has hit since I've been here."
"They're just a sweet family," Ford added. "One Sunday morning they just showed up at the front door … and that's when I met [Emma's parents] David and Karen, and it wasn't long before I realized that we had a real bond between that family and my family.
"Emma was just the sweetest little girl you'd ever meet," he said. "Just the prettiest black, curly hair. She just kind of smiled and bounced her way from one place to another. There is no word to describe how sweet she was."
The Ford's recalled how Emma loved her Barbies and her Littlest Pet Shop toys.
"[Her mother] said she stayed up to welcome the New Year in the night before, and that she and Emma had had a Barbie Camper party in the driveway, and that she was the only child to see the New Year come in," Lori Ford said. "She was just precious."
Outpouring of love
The Fords smile when discussing Emma, but fatigue and grief are etched on their faces. In addition to mourning the little girl, they and numerous other church members have spent considerable time helping the family and ministering to them since the fatal accident.
"Since I've been in this process, the church family has been there," David Ford said. "There was so many people at the hospital we had to start turning people away. There was just no way they could get in. There was so much pouring out of love from those families.
"The church has a Web site where people can help on specific things," he added, "and we've been with David and Karen the whole time, other than to go home to get a little sleep and take a shower."
"For the most part," Lori Ford added," we understand that family and friends are here now. People are coming in from all over just trying to help, to be there. But Northside church understands that once everybody goes, our job begins. Because somebody will need to be there in the weeks and months to come. That's where we are focusing a lot of our efforts now -- encourage people to help now, but don't go away."
Church members have even helped the helpers, Lori Ford said. "We've had people minister to us personally because we're working with the Longstreets." Not to mention bringing the family meals, and looking after the couple's children, even staying overnight so the couple could stay overnight with the Longstreets.
While the church has stepped up for the family, Emma's school has tried to do the same for her schoolmates, who returned from a happy holiday break Tuesday only to learn that one of their own would be forever missing. In addition to Emma, each of her three older brothers also attend Midway Elementary.
The school called the parents of the childrens' classmates on Monday to help them prepare their children when they returned to school. The school also emailed or faxed a letter to all parents on Tuesday that apprised them of the situation, and provided tips for parents on how to deal with their children's fears or questions.
Further, the school also mobilized counselors and psychologists to monitor students and staff who might need help dealing with the tragedy.
Lexington One School District spokeswoman Mary Beth Hill said the school experienced no significant problems. "It was really a calm day," she said. "Schools are like families … they're really good about supporting each other, doing whatever needs to be done for whoever needs it."
While church members, friends and family focus on the Longstreets and mourn Emma's passing, and also seek to honor her memory, the specter of the man who created this tragedy hangs over their heads. There is anger at Billy Patrick Hutto, who expressed remorse at his bond hearing on Monday, but there is also a measure of forgiveness as well.
"A lot of people wanted that [bond hearing] to be a witch hunt," David Ford said. "A lot of people wanted to string him up. While that was going on, Karen was praying for that guy -- that he would find peace with God.
"He's going through a lot, and to see that mom that has just lost that baby, and to hear her pray for the guy who took her life -- that's amazing," he added.
"There were people at the hospital that were telling us that when they heard that, they were like, 'I've got to get my life right with God. Because I can't do that. There is no way I can forgive.' And Karen was basically giving him forgiveness.
"Bad decisions. What can we say? he continued. "There is just so much that's wrong. I wish I could fix it … Jesus didn't say, 'eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth' anymore. He said, 'love your neighbor as yourself.' If you were to say what would Jesus do in this situation, he forgave the guys that nailed him to the cross. Jesus forgave the very people who killed him.
"I don't think I could forgive like that, but that's the model he wants us to follow," Ford said. "So to see that come to life … that's real. That's reality. That's not, 'just come to church and dress up.' That's a life. So, how are we dealing with it? I'm angry. Anger should be one of our first thoughts. Why? Why? Why is that drink so important? But if Karen can forgive him, and she's the one that he stole from -- I ought to be able to say the same thing."
Original post: Six-year-old Emma Katherine Longstreet of Lexington, who died Sunday in a traffic collision with a drunken driver while on her way to church with family, will be laid to rest this weekend.
Visitation will be held Friday, Jan. 6 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Caughman-Harman Funeral Home. Service will be on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 11 a.m. at Northside Baptist Church, with burial to follow at Woodridge Memorial Gardens.
Longstreet's obituary can be read here.
Check back with Patch later for more on this story as the family itself talks about their faith, their family, their ordeal, and Emma.