CHIPPEWA FALLS — The deaths of Girl Scouts Jayna Kelley, 9, Autumn Helgeson, 10, Haylee Hickle, 10, and her mother, Sara Jo Schneider, 32, are an “unfathomable loss,” pastor Jim Woldhuis told hundreds of grieving mourners on Thursday.
“Your community is suffering with you,” Woldhuis said at the funeral for Haylee and Schneider at Chippewa Valley Bible Church, adjacent to Halmstad Elementary School. “We hurt with you. We ask the unanswerable questions with you.”
About 400 mourners packed the church, as people lined up to see the single casket that mother and daughter will now share forever. Woldhuis told the family that no words, no hugs, or any acts of kindness will fully ease their pain.
“Your world has been crushed, your sense of joy has been stolen,” he said.
Woldhuis added: “This is not how it should be. This is not how it could be. But this is how it is. And our God is in control.”
Woldhuis asked the mourning crowd to not be angry at God for the deaths.
“This tragedy was not God’s fault,” he said. “He grieves with you and with us. He weeps with us now.”
The four were killed Saturday while cleaning up garbage along Highway P in Lake Hallie. Colten R. Treu, 21, 1060 Joseph St., Chippewa Falls, admits he was huffing from an aerosol spray can when he struck five people, killing four.
Treu was charged this week with 11 counts: four counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle, four counts of hit-and-run involving death, and one count each of hit-and-run causing great bodily harm, intentionally abusing hazardous materials and bail jumping. He remains jailed on a $250,000 cash bond. He returns to court in December.
“There is evil in this world, and terrible things happen to good people,” Woldhuis said. But he added there is good in the world too, which he’s seen this week as the community has come together to grieve and support each other. He asked God to bless the schools, students, and families affected by the tragedy.
“We ask that You be a blessing to the broken-hearted,” he said.
Chippewa Falls continues to grieve. Autumn’s funeral also was held Thursday, and Jayna’s funeral is today.
The community also is mourning the death of six-month-old Jaxon Hunter, who died Nov. 1 after reportedly being repeatedly kicked by a 10-year-old girl. The girl is being held at a secure detention center; she returns to court in December. Hunter’s funeral will be Saturday.
The fifth person injured in the crash is Madalyn Zwiefelhofer. She suffered significant injuries but is considered in stable condition.
Haylee was a fourth-grade student at nearby Southview Elementary School. Southview principal Sara Denure read letters written by the fourth-graders this week, where they remembered Haylee as a caring individual with wonderful artistic skills.
“Haylee’s artwork on the walls (of Southview) will be a reminder of her unforgettable spirit,” Denure said.
Haylee also loved her mom and her little brother.
“She looked out for Jasper and helped him out when he was in trouble or upset,” Denure said.
Steve Hein, an instructor at Chippewa Valley Bible Church, described Schneider as a “dedicated and loving mom” who was always upbeat and smiling.
“I can see the legacy that Sara left won’t be forgotten,” Hein said.
Emilee Thornton, who taught Haylee last year, said the girl “had a smile that could light up a room.”
“I can’t help but realize how much Haylee was her mom,” she said. “Her laugh was infectious. She was loved by all at Southview.”
The deceased girls attended Southview Elementary or Halmstad Elementary in Chippewa Falls.
CCF Bank and Helpful Hearts Foundation announced they have opened a benefit account for the victims and their families of Chippewa Falls Girl Scout Troop 3055. Donations can be dropped off at their locations in Lake Hallie, Altoona and Eau Claire. CCF Bank said it will match the total of all donations up to $5,000.
Chippewa County Economic Development Corp. has established a Go Fund Me page, which can be found at gofundme.com/chippewa-falls-girl-scout-3055.