Al Merryman is trying to digest a tragedy that he calls 'unreal.'
Merryman, a retired chemical worker, was at the Baptist retreat in Leakey along with his friends from First Baptist Church of New Braunfels, 13 of whom were killed when their church bus was hit head on by a pickup truck as they were returning home from the retreat Wednesday.
Merryman says every one of them was the 'strength of the community.
'"I think almost to a person, you could look at them and know that they did things for others," Merryman told 1200 WOAI news today.
Merryman left the retreat a little before the church bus, and only heard of the tragedy after he had returned home."The retreat was a chance to get out away from everything else," he said. "It was seniors only."
He said it was an opportunity to sing hymns, pray, and get to know other seniors in the First Baptist congregation. He says the seniors enjoyed First Baptist, because, unlike other youth oriented churches, it appreciated its senior parishioners, who were involved in a wide variety of charity work, from food banks to visiting the homebound, people from hospitals, and other shut ins.
In Texas, especially in small town Texas, Baptist churches are a critical part of the social fabric, and Merryman says parishioners take their commitment to service seriously.
"They were strong in their faith, they were outgoing, they practiced the Christian principles, and they were out in the community doing things, even though many are in their late seventies, eighties, even in their nineties," he said. "These were people you would be proud to have as a neighbor."
Pastor Brad McLean says the congregation is doing what 'church families do' in times of tragedy.
"We are just gathered together and trying to encourage each other and work through the process as best we can as we know it," he said.
State Trooper Orlando Moreno says the immediate cause of the accident is clear. It was the fault of the pickup driver.
"For unknown reasons, the pickup crossed the center line into the southbound lanes and hit the bus head on," he said.He says the DPS and the National Transportation Safety Board will try to determine why the bus was in the wrong lane.
Merryman is just trying to get over the loss of so many of his friends in this horrible accident.
"You were sitting there, holding their hand, or have you arm around their neck, and all of a sudden they're gone," he said. 'It's kind of unreal."