- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

KENTWOOD, Mich. (AP) — After believing for more than a month that Laura VanRyn survived a van crash that killed five persons, her friends and relatives gathered yesterday to remember the young woman who was misidentified in a tragic mix-up.

“She brought more joy to us than we could ever imagine,” brother Kenny VanRyn said during the memorial service.

“We love you, Sweets,” he said, referring to a nickname for his younger sister.

Miss VanRyn’s family planned to exhume the 22-year-old college senior’s body, which was buried April 30 under a tombstone with the name of her college classmate, Whitney Cerak.

“I hope that in whatever time I have left here, I have come close to loving people the way that she did,” sister Lisa VanRyn told the 1,900 people at the service.

Members of Miss VanRyn’s congregation also prayed for her and her family during a church service earlier yesterday.

“This week, we were introduced to a concept that can only be called retroactive grieving,” the Rev. Andy Smith of Forest Hills Bible Chapel said.

Members of Miss Cerak’s family, however, “have experienced a resurrection of sorts, and we can rejoice with them,” he said.

About 180 miles to the north in Miss Cerak’s hometown of Gaylord, about 1,000 worshippers at Gaylord Evangelical Free Church offered prayers and listened yesterday as the Rev. Jim Mathis described the reunion between Miss Cerak and her parents after the mistake was discovered.

“I saw a scene from heaven,” Mr. Mathis said, his voice choking with emotion. “I’ll never be the same, folks.”

Laura VanRyn and four other persons from Taylor University were killed April 26 when a tractor-trailer hit their van.

Miss Cerak, who bore a resemblance to Miss VanRyn, was in a coma until recently and suffered a swollen face and broken bones, cuts and bruises and brain injuries in the crash.

Miss VanRyn’s parents did not begin to question whether she was actually their daughter until, as she regained consciousness, she started saying things that did not make sense to them.

She also replied “Whitney” several times after Miss VanRyn’s parents addressed her as “Laura,” Anne Veltema, a spokeswoman with Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Mich., said last week. Dental records conclusively confirmed the mix-up Wednesday.

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