he spent his last breath singing

January 27, 2010

Ben Larson was a Luther ’06 graduate—two years behind Marshall and a year behind me. I considered him an acquaintance; Marshall knew him better. He died in the Haiti earthquake. Marshall mentioned this article (from LaCrosse Tribune) to me tonight. It has been keeping him up at night.


He spent his last breath singing; wife, cousin remember Ben Larson

The past week for Renee Splichal Larson and Jonathan Larson has been filled with danger, uncertainty, heartache and deep pain as they mourn the apparent loss of Renee’s husband and Jonathan’s cousin, Ben Larson, 25, in the earthquake in Haiti.

The two Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) seminary students, in Port-au-Prince at the time of the disaster, returned to the United States Jan. 15. They spoke to the ELCA News Service Monday.

Renee and Jonathan told of their escape from the collapsed St. Joseph Home for Boys and their unsuccessful attempts to rescue Ben. They also talked about the suffering of the people of Haiti, their strong feelings of gratitude for the ELCA and the positive influences it had on Ben throughout this life.

“All he wanted was to be a pastor in this church,” Renee said.

The three senior students at Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa — one of eight ELCA seminaries — went to Haiti to teach Lutheran theology to members and pastors of the Lutheran church during the seminary’s January term. Renee, who grew up in Garrison, N.D., was also doing interviews with local people for a master’s thesis about the emerging Lutheran church in Haiti.

That all changed on Jan. 12, when a severe earthquake struck Haiti.

At the time of the quake all three were together in the St. Joseph Home for Boys.

“We were all together on the same floor,” when the building began to shake, Renee said. “We all kind of panicked and started running. Jonathan and I were together. (Ben) was hugging a pillar in the middle of the floor. I turned and I saw him, and I saw concrete starting to fall on him. I called for him and started running toward him.”

At that moment the two floors above collapsed on them. Jonathan and Renee were trapped for a short time, but managed to squeeze out onto the roof of the building and called for Ben, she said. The collapsed building continued to shift as the aftershocks continued, Renee said.

The two went back to the place where they had crawled out and called again for Ben. Renee said she heard Ben’s voice. He was singing, not unusual for Ben who loved music. “I told him I loved him, and that Jon and I were OK, and to keep singing,” Renee said. But the singing stopped after he sang the words “God’s peace to us we pray,” she said.

“If he was alive, he would have been calling for help desperately,” Renee said. “Ben spent his last breath singing.”

In the chaos of that night, Renee and Jonathan stayed nearby with local residents displaced by the quake. One of the people they were with was Bill Nathan, director of the St. Joseph Home for Boys, who injured his spine after jumping from the roof of the building to the ground. ABC News featured Nathan’s story on “Nightline.”

The next day Renee and Jonathan went back to the building, managed to get their passports, and did what they could to locate Ben, but could not find him. “Getting off of that roof was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said.

The two were advised to go to the U.S. Embassy, which they managed to accomplish with local residents’ help, and seek assistance to rescue Ben, but there was no team to rescue Ben.

They met up with a Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville (N.J.), medical team at the embassy, who cared for Renee and Jonathan. The students managed to get text messages to their families, asking for advice about what to do. Their families advised them to return home to the United States.

“It was so sad to go. It took all of our strength to get back to our families,” Renee said.

read the whole article here


2 Responses to “he spent his last breath singing”

  1. Bethany said

    I’m crying, and it feels good.

  2. Alison said

    They played an interview with his wife Renee on MPR yesterday on my drive home. I was crying then and remembered your story here. I bet you can find the MPR interview on the web…http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/02/08/loss-in-haiti/

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