There is an empty chair and desk at the Hinesville Pre-K center where once sat a bright eyed little girl named Cambria Shuman.
There is also an empty spot in the hearts of a community who feels the loss of this 5-year-old pre-kindergarten student in a tragic school bus accident.
There’s a pain in this community unlike any I’ve ever sensed in all the years I’ve been covering the news. To have been out on the scene that Tuesday morning was surreal.
The look of pain on the faces of law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel was beyond imagination.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say many of those first responders who answered the call Tuesday are some of the most battled-hardened people in the business. These are the folks who have just about seen it all. Even being battle hardened didn’t take away their sense of compassion as they tended to the children, many bloodied from injuries sustained in the accident, as they tried to comfort them and reassure them it was going to be OK.
Men like Liberty County Sheriffs Office Deputy Lt. Gary Eason became a father figure to the bewildered children who gathered around him as they clung to his pants leg.
In my role as an outside witness, I watched him reach out in a manner which provided comfort to these children, many as young as 5 and still wearing their backpacks.
Then there was Teena Ysbrand a long time emergency medical first responder who hurried from child to child to assess their injuries, holding the hand of a little girl while she talked to her as they walked to a waiting ambulance.
I watched as Station 15 Lt. Hannah Carmon reached out and comforted firefighter Harley Keefer who was visibly overcome with grief over the death of Cambria.
Even hardened members of the Georgia State Patrol had trouble fighting back tears when Trooper Thornell King broke down during an interview. Trooper Lyle Thurmond took a moment to comfort me as I tried to make sense of what happened.
Then there were citizens like Clay Rowe, who was in the area where the accident happened He helped children off the bus and prayed with them.
Rowe was told by Cambria’s older siste, Sage, that she was still on the bus and she had passed. Rowe told the little girl, "don’t say that."
He climbed into the bus in search of Cambria looking under seats on his hand and knees for Cambria. When he found her, he checked to see if she had a pulse.
Rowe, fighting back tears, said Saturday after Cambria’s funeral service, after he got off the bus Tuesday he had to sit down for a few minutes to regroup before he turned to a higher power and prayed for Cambria and the children.
Kristopher Shuman, in an emotional eulogy at the Gum Branch Baptist Church, thanked the first responders for being with his baby the morning she gained her wings.
It was a fitting thank you to the many men and women who responded that Tuesday morning, only later to have an empty spot in their heart for a child who has since become an angel.