For the Johanson family, the Christmas holiday was especially spirit-filled. Adam and Elizabeth Johanson had traveled with their four children to Las Vegas to celebrate the season and important gospel milestones.
During the trip, they baptized their eight-year-old daughter Jane as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was especially poignant as the baptism took place on the anniversary of the death of their infant son.
Elizabeth wrote on social media, “Jane was baptized this morning. We lost our Jack 10 years ago today. I am so grateful that we know what we know and we have a Savior who made it possible for us to be a family forever.”
On the same day, Adam and Elizabeth also took their twelve-year-old daughter Megan to the Las Vegas Temple to do proxy baptisms for the dead for the first time. They shared that it was a “wonderful experience.”
Combined with the Christmas festivities, it was impossible to imagine what was to come.
Less than a week later, an automobile accident claimed the lives of Adam, Elizabeth, and Jane as they headed home to Mississippi. On January 3, 2019, their SUV hit an icy patch of road on a Texas highway and struck an oncoming vehicle.
Elizabeth and Jane died at the scene and Adam died later at the hospital. The three remaining Johanson children, Megan, five-year-old Alec, and three-year-old Charlotte, were treated for their injuries, some of which were life-threatening, before being released from the hospital and flown back to Las Vegas to be with family.
In the aftermath, multiple communities, including Latter-day Saint congregations, have rallied to provide support to the children and their grieving families.
A fundraising account was quickly formed and has currently surpassed $100,000 to help pay for medical, memorial, and funeral expenses.
The Royden G. Derrick Planetarium in the Eyring Science Center at Brigham Young University held two benefit showings to help gather donations. Adam graduated with a Ph.D. in astrophysics from BYU in 2015 and was working in Mississippi as Delta State’s planetarium director and assistant professor in physics. Delta State flew their flags at half-mast and held memorials to honor Adam and his family.
Sam Marshall, Elizabeth’s brother who is now taking in the Johanson children as his own, also shared poignant experiences as he and his family gathered in Texas after the accident. He spoke of the numerous individuals who diligently tended to Megan, Alec, and Charlotte as they recovered from their injuries and then traveled home.
The local stake president and his wife, who just so happened to have been in the same congregation as Adam a decade prior, went to the hospital to spend time with the children and bring clothes while they waited for their family.
Two state troopers stood vigil outside of the children’s room for twelve hours to ensure they were protected.
One of Adam’s relatives who lived in Texas drove 90 miles to bring Megan chicken nuggets from McDonald’s and be with them.
A local Latter-day Saint couple preparing to leave for their mission the following week had a Suburban they needed to do something with. After saying a prayer on what to do with it, they received a call ten minutes later to bring the truck to the hospital. They gave Sam the use of their car so he could have a vehicle to use in Texas.
They offered to let Sam borrow it for the next 18 months if necessary.
Countless others have been instrumental in helping the Johanson/Marshall family prepare for their new life after tragedy.
“I cannot express the inadequacy that Kaylee and I feel for the task of raising Megan, Alec, and Charlotte but I know Elizabeth and Adam will help us along the way,” Sam shared on social media.
“I have a new appreciation and testimony of not just divine intervention, but that of divine awareness, planning, assistance, and guidance. I cannot begin to thank those who have assisted at this time of tragedy and need, the seen and the unseen. I cannot begin to share all of the tender mercies I have witnessed and some I plan to keep to myself.”
As this family moves forward, it is Elizabeth herself who reminds us what to hold onto. She shared it nearly five years ago on her blog as she spoke of the death of her infant son Jack.
“In my moment of certain devastation, He [Heavenly Father] was there. He carried me through that terrible heartbreak, just as He always has and always will. There is not a doubt in my mind that families are eternal and that my boy is mine forever. I so look forward to the day when I will hold my little boy again. I am certain I am being held by my Heavenly Father in the meantime.”