CHATTANOOGA - Rev. Tavner Smith, senior pastor of Venue Church in Chattanooga, rushed to the hospital to console parents soon after the Monday school bus crash that killed five Woodmore Elementary School students and injured many others. At times he and his colleagues were with families when they received the worst news.
Early Tuesday morning he and his entire church staff were at the school.
"We know God has a peace he can give people at times like this," Smith said.
A father of three, he became emotional when recalling his time on Monday with parents who lost one child and have another in intensive care.
"There are no words," he said.
On Tuesday, he said his team's mission wasn't to offer words so much as a shoulder to cry on.
"We're not here to give answers," he said. "We're here to listen."
Interim Hamilton County Superintendent Kirk Kelly said 37 students were involved in the crash, which happened just about a mile from the school. Five died, one boy and four girls. There were three fourth graders, one kindergartner and a first grader among the fatalities. Six students are in ICU, six are in regular hospital rooms and other injured students have been released to recover at home.
Earlier reports indicated that fatalities could number six, and officials join parents and community members in praying it does not rise.
Bus driver Johnthony Walker, 24, has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving, the Chattanooga Police Department said. Walker works for a company the school system contracts with for bus drivers, Kelly said.