What I Wish Everyone Knew About the Woman Who Died to Save My Friends

Heather Christensen

The memory feels more like a dream. No, it feels more like a distant nightmare. It was so long ago. We have all moved on with our lives since then. Some of us still keep in touch but most of us are now only Facebook friends with the occasional like of a life event. Meeting any one of us, you would never guess the night of horror we went through together. But deep down, we remember. It wasn’t just a nightmare. It was a real event and because of it we still miss Heather.

It was October 10, 2009, our marching band was driving back from a competition in Pocatello, Idaho in tour buses. We were high off of the excitement of  having just won the competition as well as completely exhausted. It was while driving out in the middle of nowhere that I remember our bus suddenly pulling over. Everyone was shouting that one of our bands buses had tipped over.

Everything after that was a complete blur. I think I called my parents and casually told them I was going to be late due to a bus tipping over. I was simply in denial. I did not want to think about what that overturned bus meant for my friends and fellow band mates who were in there.

Photo of crash October 10, 2009

We were told to stay on the bus while the bus driver and color guard directors rushed out. Terrified we sang hymns and watched it get darker as the sun set. The flashing red and blue lights and sirens were a constant reminder of the horror that laid beyond the closed space where we sat huddled waiting for any sort of update. The wait was the worst. We watched as ambulance after ambulance came and left not knowing who was in them while whispers that someone was killed flooded the air.

After what felt like days, our band director, Mr. Miller, came aboard and told us in tears that the assistant band director, Heather Christensen, had been killed and everyone on the bus had been taken to the hospital.

I hardly remember anything after that, but our bus eventually made it to our high school parking lot full of family, friends, and news reporters.

As tragic and nightmarish as that night was, what followed has had the most lasting impact. I can testify that I know that in every tragedy miracles happen. We later learned that Heather truly did save our friends lives when she grabbed that wheel because it prevented the bus from rolling into a ditch.

Another blessing was that our marching band show that year honored the heroes of WWII and so each band member wore a dog tag with their name inscribed. The dog tags were able to help emergency services identify and organize everyone during the accident.

Three days after the accident, there was another competition. Everyone wanted to preform. We knew that is what Heather would have wanted. Those that were too injured to preform choose to participate by sitting on the side and playing their instrument.

Since our show was based on heroes of WWII we had backdrops with pictures of veterans and heroes. My deceased grandpa was one of the many veterans featured. I know that he was there the night of the bus accident because I could feel his presence. That performance, next to my grandpa’s picture, Heather’s picture had been added. Next to it was the scripture John 15:13 – “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” It is no coincidence that our show that year was to honor heroes.

That season of marching band was the most amazing and greatest season I ever experienced. We as a marching band were stronger and closer because of what we had been through together. Our competitions were no longer about winning. They were about telling Heather’s story and making her proud. We made friends with our competitors who were so supportive during that difficult time. That year marching was different and everyone could feel it.

This was right before we decided to go to Grand Nations. (I am the girl on the far left)

As the season was coming to a close, we took first place in the Western United States. That was suppose to have been our last competition but none of us were ready to let it go.

Our band made the crazy last minute choice to compete at nationals. It became another miracle to see the community gather around our band and in two days $250,000 was raised for the entire marching band to go to Grand Nationals in Indianapolis, Indiana.

If we had won nationals our story would have became a movie. But, we didn’t win. And that was okay because that is not why we went. We went to tell the world that Heather gave her life to save the students she loved so dearly. (Article Here )

Looking back at 2009 it’s hard believe that it all really happened. That year made a difference in my life. It was a horrible event that had the most amazing outcome. I learned that miracles do happen. I learned that heroes do exist. I learned that a band and a community can join together so deeply that they can make the seemingly impossible happen. (Great look back news article here)

Our band is now grown up and we have gone our separate ways. Regardless of where we might be in life, we all pause for a second on October 10. We think about our hero, Heather, her amazing life, and the incredible year of 2009 that will be imprinted in our hears forever.

We love and miss you Heather. I am sorry I didn’t know you better, but I thank you from the bottom of my heart for saving the lives of my friends. You have inspired me to be a better person. “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

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