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Wheaton College Mourns Death of Student, other Plane Crash Victims

A close-knit student body mourns the death of junior Ramie Harris, who died in a small plane crash near Crystal Lake Saturday.

More than 2,000 Wheaton College students gathered Monday to remember . 

At the school’s first chapel service after Thanksgiving break, Wheaton College President Dr. Phillip Ryken, staff and student leaders led the service of prayer and mourning the loss of Harris, her father, Ray Harris, her sister, Shey Harris and a family friend, Chris Backus.

Officials continue to investigate the crash of a Cirrus-SR20 aircraft around 10:30 a.m. Saturday near the intersection of Route 14 and North Ridgefield Road outside Crystal Lake. Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have not determined the cause of the crash. Ray Harris was piloting the plane, flying Ramie back to school at Wheaton College after the Thanksgiving break, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Harris, 21, of Marion, IN, was a junior who last year transferred to Wheaton College from Purdue University. As a sophomore, she led one of the school’s discipleship small groups, a dorm-based Bible study group that meets weekly. She also went on a medical mission trip arranged through the college last spring to work in a juvenile facility in Wichita, KS, Ryken said.

Ryken said his impression of Harris was that, “She was somebody who had a heart for people who were broken and hurting, and wanted to use her life to help people in that situation.”

David Malone, an assistant professor at Wheaton College who accompanied Harris and other students on the Wichita trip, wrote in a statement that he had the opportunity to get to know Harris during that trip. “I found Ramie to be a thoughtful and earnest young woman who used her spring break to learn how to be of service to others ... (Like others on the trip) she became well acquainted with the needs of the hurting and broken, which helped form future career plans."

Ryken said he learned from Harris’ mother that she gave her life to Jesus Christ as a freshman in high school when she was diagnosed with narcolepsy. To deal with the limitations and distress the disorder caused, Harris would copy verses of the Bible to carry with her and give her hope.

“Sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers by giving us what we want for us. Sometimes he answers them by giving us what he wants for us," Ryken said. "In his good plan, even our limitations can demonstrate his grace. Maybe this is what Ramie would tell us—if she could give her testimony today—that God did not take away her trials, but used them to grow her faith.

“There were many things Ramie Harris hadn’t yet decided about life—things that maybe she didn’t need to decide because they weren’t part of God’s plan for her anyway. But she knew that she wanted to follow Jesus.”

Ryken said the sense of loss on campus is widespread. “There will be many close relationships that are affected by this loss.”

Rebecca Queen, a senior and executive vice president of student care who read a prayer in chapel, said the loss of a fellow student has been a shock to the close-knit student body.

“You could tell, there was a sense of heaviness and a little bit of darkness … people are wondering what’s next,” she said.

Dave McHale, a senior student chaplain who knew mutual friends of Harris’, also read a prayer at the chapel service.

“No one was expecting this. … It’s going to be on people’s minds today and in coming weeks," he said. "As long as we stay together and come together and love each other I think the Lord will be gracious to us and faithful and present with us.”

The Wheaton College counseling center has extended hours Monday, and the college’s director of counseling gave students brief instructions on how to deal with their grief and care for others dealing with their grief, Ryken said. He said currently there are no plans for a memorial service at the college.

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