People from Oologah to Nowata have heavy hearts this evening after two little girls died in a car-train collision. The sisters, Hailey and Hannah Benham, were 9 and 6 years old.
It happened Monday afternoon, September 30, 2013, about four miles south of Nowata just off Highway 169 where County Road 280 crosses the tracks. The heartache is especially hard where they went to school, which is also where their injured mother works.
The most recent school pictures of Hailey and Hannah Benham show two beautiful sisters, two children with wonderful smiles and full of energy,
Rob Armstrong is the superintendent at Oologah where Hailey and Hannah went to school.
"Just precious children," said Rob Armstrong, Oologah School superintendent.
Those precious little girls were killed when their mother's SUV collided with a train, right after school. Their mom, Natalie Benham, was injured.
"They've probably crossed that area hundreds of times," Armstrong said. "I'm sure they were in that conversation talking about the day, how everything went."
The girls transferred to Oologah schools two years ago from Nowata when their mom started working in the school cafeteria.
"When you're in this business, they're a part of you," Armstrong said. "And our teachers feel that and I feel that as well, so there's a deep sadness on our campus today as we go through this."
Nearly a dozen members of the area ministerial alliance are at Oologah schools to provide counseling for students, teachers and others who worked alongside Benham.
"It's unimaginable, the weight that is not only on my heart, but our community's heart," said Oologah School Superintendent Rob Armstrong.
The crossing has yield signs but no flashing lights or crossing arms. A preliminary report shows Benham failed to yield to the train.
While their mom is in the hospital with leg and internal injuries, the two sisters are being remembered for their smiles and their fun-loving spirit at school and on the soccer field.
"A tribute already to the girls, to Hailey, is that her soccer team - they all wore their jerseys to school today to remember her," Armstrong said.
Losing two students, siblings, and the little ones of a school employee, Armstrong says, will be a struggle, one that is so sad and so heartbreaking.
Funeral services are pending until their mother recovers from her injures. She's in a Tulsa hospital.