DeFUNIAK SPRINGS— The Gospel of the Kingdom Church was uncharacteristically quiet at service time Sunday morning.
The small building, only about 2,500 square feet, was empty. The parking lot was a ghost town. The only sounds were the trucks whizzing along the highway in this rural area several miles north of the city.
Tragedy struck the small congregation on Saturday morning when one of the church’s vans wrecked on the Interstate 10 near Chipley.
Two young girls, Maliya Chrishon, 8, and Micah Goldsmith, 11, and one woman, Patricia Baker, 58, were killed. Several more were injured.
The accident sent shockwaves through a tight-knit community where families have been living for generations.
“These are people who are extremely embedded in our community,” said Carlene Anderson, school superintendent of Walton County. The two girls attended nearby elementary schools. “This is a very small community and a very tight community. The people involved, I taught their parents, I hired people in their families, I know these names. This will have a huge impact on everyone.”
Services were called off on Sunday as most of the congregation visited the injured passengers in the hospital or offered support for those who lost loved ones.
The church’s Facebook page posted a photo of “the Gospel of The Kingdom Angels that lost their lives yesterday.”
“Please keep their families and our church family in your prayers,” the page said.
The church van carrying at least 10 people was headed to Tallahassee when a rear tire blew out on Interstate 10 near Chipley.
The driver lost control and the van rolled over several times, throwing several passengers from the vehicle, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Micah’s aunt, Akiba Goldsmith, who lives in Paxton, said Micah was a sweet little girl who always had a smile on her face and that she would do her very best to protect anyone who needed it.
She said Micah’s grandmother, mother and baby sister were in the van as well.
Her mother Akyra Eiland, 30, was taken to Bay Medical Center in Panama City in critical condition. Her condition was unknown on Sunday.
“As a community, DeFuniak Springs is pretty small,” Goldsmith said. “Everybody knows everybody. When one hurts, everyone hurts. It was a tragedy for everyone and they will be missed."
Anderson said the families who were affected are good people.
“I hate that there is tragedy in their lives right now.”
Daily News Assignments Editor Wendy Victora contributed to this report.