Wednesday, September 3, 2003

LIBERTY — Even as their minivan filled with water, Robert and Melissa Rogers tried to comfort their four young children, singing Bible songs and praying.

The flood eventually tore the suburban Kansas City family’s minivan off the Kansas Turnpike near Emporia on Saturday. Only Mr. Rogers, 37, survived the trip home from a family wedding.

The children’s bodies were found Sunday. Mrs. Rogers’ body was found Tuesday, along with the body of Al Larsen, 31, of Fort Worth, Texas, who had been in a separate car that also was washed away.

Mr. Rogers told neighbor Mica Broyles that when the water got to the steering wheel, he broke out a window but was swept out of the vehicle. He had retained hope that his wife had survived until her body was found.

Kansas Highway Patrol Capt. Mark Conboy said he was present shortly after Mr. Rogers was told his wife’s body had been found.

“He was extremely strong,” Capt. Conboy said. “People were breaking down around him; he was holding onto them.”

Now, Mr. Rogers will try to rebuild his life without his family.

The couple’s first child was always grinning, always helpful 8-year-old Makenah. The second oldest, 5-year-old Zachary, had Down syndrome and the family had learned sign language to communicate. Next came 3-year-old Nicholas. He was the baby until the family adopted 21-month-old Alenah from China.

Lorie Liechti, with the adoption agency Children’s Hope International, recalls the day she showed the couple Alenah’s picture. “They both started crying,” Miss Liechti said. “That was their daughter. They were just thrilled.”

Before leaving for the Hunan province in January to pick up Alenah, Robert and Melissa videotaped themselves reading bedtime stories. Each night Robert’s sister played the video for the children.

For Christmas, Melissa and the children brought goody bags filled with homemade cookies for the staff at the adoption agency. The children had decorated the brown paper bags with stamps.

“We wish we had a whole bunch of families like them,” Miss Liechti said.

The couple was active in the Northland Abundant Life Worship Center, where they helped with youth Bible quizzes, and Mr. Rogers sometimes played piano. Friends described them as deeply spiritual.

Makenah’s former classmates at Alexander Doniphan Elementary school were struggling with her death. The school reminded teachers to send sad youngsters to the counselor, said Principal Jay Niceswanger.

“When I think back on Makenah, one thing I remember is her smile,” he said. “I can just remember visiting her class. You could always count on Makenah being the one helping other kids and that smile on her face.”

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