Nearly 10 years after a tragic car accident caused a case of mistaken identity, two families have come together to help each other find strength rather than giving into bitterness.
In April 2006, a tractor trailer crashed into a van full of students and staff from Taylor University, TODAY reports. Five students died in the accident and the few survivors were injured and taken to emergency care.
The parents of Whitney Cerak were given the heartbreaking news that their daughter had died.
The family of Laura Van Ryn were told that their daughter was still alive but in the hospital. She was badly injured and unable to speak.
The Van Ryns, who were told that their daughter would be unrecognizable due to her injuries, spent weeks at her bedside while she recovered. As time passed they started to notice things that didn’t quite seem right, like Laura’s teeth looking different and a naval piercing that they had never seen.
The day came that she could speak again and suddenly everything changed for the Van Ryns.
Laura’s sister Lisa said in a 2012 interview with Dateline: “I said, ‘Can you tell me your name?’ And she said, ‘Whitney.'”
The shock set in as the Van Ryn family had to come to terms with the fact that their daughter had not actually survived the crash. The Cerak family learned that their daughter, who they had held a funeral for weeks before, was still alive.
The two families reportedly did not let the coroner’s mistake cause any resentment. Instead they became even closer and have stayed in touch years after.
“We love the Cerak family, and we catch up on what’s been happening and just encourage each other,” Don Van Ryn, Laura’s father, told TODAY’s Matt Lauer.
Four years after the accident, Whitney got married in the same church where her “funeral” was held.
Whitney now has three children and Susie Van Ryn, Laura’s mother, says that they are happy to share in these important life events with the Ceraks.
“What a joy to see Whitney and Matt with their three kids,” Susie said. “It’s wonderful. It’s nothing but joy for them.”
The Van Ryns know that their story is tragic, but they say that their faith has helped them get through the tragedy an find happiness.