Photo: Bill Hoefer

A Plane Goes Down, But His Rays Soon Follow

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Photo: Courtesy of the Weaver family

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Melissa Weaver: "With a smile that could light up a room."

Photo: Courtesy of the Weaver family

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"We were just starting to see her blossom as a human being," said Melissa's father, Dan, pictured here with his wife, Kathy.

Photo: Courtesy of the Weaver family

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Melissa's siblings, Sarah, Emily and Joseph.

Photo: Courtesy of the Weaver family

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Melissa (middle), with her sisters, Emily (left) and Sarah.

By Felix Carroll (May 23, 2012)
She heard the pitter-patter of little feet running down the hallway. It was her eldest child, Melissa, 5, who had awakened from a nap with a burning question too pertinent, too out of the blue, to brush off as mere coincidence.

"Mommy, Mommy. Why aren't you taking me to church?" Melissa pleaded with tears in her eyes as she burst into the room. The other children were still sleeping.

Away from the Church for 20 years, since the age of 18, Kathy had just given birth to her fourth child, and existential matters had been on her mind. In the weeks leading up to this moment, she had been struggling with what — if anything — she would tell her children about God. Just moments before Melissa had awoken, Kathy had been praying: "Lord, I don't even know if You exist. I need to be shown in a very profound way you exist, and I want to believe in You."

Melissa's question 20 years ago restored Kathy's faith. God is listening. He has a plan. We turn to Him with trust.

But that doesn't take the tears away.

Melissa died tragically nearly two years ago.

Adventurous Spirit
The Flathead County sheriff called the Weavers on Monday, June 28, 2010, notifying Dan and Kathy Weaver that a plane had gone missing the day before and that their daughter Melissa was in it.

What plane? The Weavers knew nothing about a plane trip.

But Kathy and Dan Weaver could certainly understand that if their daughter were offered a chance to take a scenic plane ride over the pristine Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness she would jump at it. That's how she did things.

If there were a mountain to ski, she'd ski it. If there were a trail to hike, she'd hike it. Though not even a member of her own high school choir, Melissa auditioned on a whim for a coveted spot on a prestigious regional choir. She made it. In college, at the University of Montana, when she was offered a newspaper internship to the front lines of a California wildfire, she packed her bags.

Fresh out of college, where she graduated with honors, Melissa became a journalist for the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Mont., an eight-hour drive northwest of her hometown of Billings, Mont.

"She wanted to change the world," Kathy says.

She wasn't given enough time.

On a beautiful Sunday, June 28, not a cloud in the sky, Melissa, 23, and her friend Erika Hoefer, 27 — friends and reporters for the Daily Inter Lake — were aboard a 1968 Piper Arrow flown by Sonny Kless, 25. Also onboard was their friend Brian Williams, 28.

At some point during the flight, Sonny, an inexperienced pilot, had decided to "skim the river," a maneuver that's illegal and highly dangerous, particularly in mountainous regions, where air currents are unpredictable. Eye witnesses reported seeing the plane flying approximately 30 feet above the Flathead River, close enough to create a wake. Kathy says that as far as authorities could piece together the events that followed, the pilot inadvertently flew into a box canyon while attempting to regain altitude. Flying just above the treetops, the plane stalled and fell to the earth.

Call Upon Him with Trust
Kathy first learned about Divine Mercy in 1993. The Gospel message famously promoted by the Polish mystic St. Faustina was exactly what she needed to hear. Simply put: The Divine Mercy message teaches the truth of how God loves us and wants us to understand that His mercy is greater than our sins and that we can call upon Him with trust.

"I realized the only way I was going to get to heaven was through God's mercy," Kathy says. "I didn't want to meet Him as the Just Judge.

When God, in 1992, gave Kathy that powerful sign through Melissa, Kathy came back to the Church, and she brought her four young children with her. They attended daily Mass. She sat them in the front row so they would pay attention. They visited the Blessed Sacrament weekly. She taught them to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and to thank God for dying on the cross.

After the Flathead County sheriff informed the Weavers that Melissa was missing, Kathy and Dan gathered their children and went to the Blessed Sacrament where they prayed the Rosary together. People from their parish, St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Billings, formed a prayer chain.

"But I knew then, while we were praying the Rosary, that it wasn't going to have a happy ending," Kathy says.

The Weavers caught a flight north to Kalispell where they prayed and waited, prayed and waited, as hundreds of people searched for the missing plane in an area covering 15,000 square miles. Since it had been flying under the radar, there was no telling where the plane might be. After three days of searching by air, ground and water a pilot spotted the plane in a remote and rugged mountainside on Indian tribal land. Rescuers reached the site by helicopter and found all four passengers dead.

Beautiful, Inside and Out
The Weavers last saw their daughter just two weeks before the tragedy. Strangely enough, the family members had talked about how they would choose to die when the time came. Melissa said she'd prefer dying either while skiing or from a plane accident.

Who could've imagined?

"We were just starting to see her blossom as a human being," Melissa's father, Dan, told a Billings reporter following the tragedy. To reporters, Kathy and Dan have found it impossible to describe their daughter in any way that gives her justice. So this has to suffice:

"A beautiful child, inside and out," Kathy says. "Not a perfect child. She was incredibly thoughtful, compassionate and caring. She had a smile that could light up a room. She loved life: This was obvious to those around her."

Once, when Melissa was still at the University of Montana, her mother phoned her around midnight asking her to call her younger sister Sarah, also a student at the university. Sarah had just called home, tearful. She was having a difficult time and needed comforting.

But, instead of calling Sarah, Melissa got up and drove to the nearest 24-hour grocery store and bought her sister's favorite things and brought them to Sarah at her dorm room to cheer her up. Melissa would have done that for anyone.

"It was just those little, thoughtful things that Melissa would do," Kathy says. In addition to Sarah, Melissa leaves behind her sister Emily and brother Joseph. Born two years apart, all four siblings were incredibly close.

So many memories: Melissa taught herself to play the harmonica, then fearlessly played it in the school talent show. She would leave tiny, handmade origami animals around the house. She loved to cook and sing. She became a talented tennis player, skier, violinist, and writer. Once, when her car broke down on the interstate, she ordered a pizza and had it delivered to her car. Melissa ate it while waiting for the tow truck to come.

She exuded strength and independence, her mother says, and sometimes those qualities would mask a sensitive soul. She found it difficult reporting on crime and violence without aching for the people affected. She once had a newspaper assignment to cover a house fire that left a family homeless. She didn't want to extract quotes from the victims; rather, she wanted to put down her notepad and help them.

Melissa had just begun making plans to leave journalism. She was thinking about going back to school for a graduate degree in counseling. She also considered law school, but she told her parents she didn't think she was confrontational enough to be a lawyer.

Consecrated to the Lord
Kathy says she'd be lying if she said she was totally at peace with how God was working in her life. Yet, she says, He has revealed Himself through this tragedy — through the people who prayed, the rescuers that searched, the hundreds of consolation letters the Weavers received, and the many acts of kindness by friends and strangers alike.

The morning Melissa was getting on the plane, Kathy and Dan were at Mass. During the Consecration, Kathy remembered she hadn't renewed her family's consecration to the Lord in a while and decided to do it then.

"OK Lord," she prayed, "I give you myself and my whole family, my kids. Use us however you want."

Somehow, all of this is part of God's plan. She prays — now more than ever, with an intention burning at her heart.

Melissa had just finished college. Like most college kids, she wasn't attending church — though she had only recently told her sister she was thinking about going back and maybe even singing in the choir again.

"To have my child die a sudden, tragic death without receiving the sacraments, without having the opportunity to pray for her, without being able to even see her, means that I have to trust that God was taking care of her and continues to care for her" Kathy says. "All I can do is appeal to His Mercy for her and her friends. In that way, it has made my devotion to His Mercy stronger."

Honoring the Victims
When her parish hosted a Divine Mercy mission in March, 2011, led by Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC, of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., Kathy decided to do something special to honor the young people who died in the crash.

She bought 200 Divine Mercy booklets that explained the message and devotion, and she handed them out free to those in attendance. In each of the booklets she put labels — 50 booklets each for each of the four victims. She requested everyone to pray a chaplet for the person whose name was in the booklet.

"We gave them out to insure people are praying for these kids," Kathy says.

Last September, Bill Hoefer, the father of Erika, had his own idea for honoring the victims. He had a four-foot tall, 45-pound steel cross made. He arranged for the cross to be air-lifted and lowered to the site. With a team of volunteers, he bushwhacked his way through six miles of dense forest and placed the cross at the crash site. The cross bears the girls' names and birth dates, with the words: "Eternal Friends 6-27-2010."

As Bill was walking away, he remembered he needed to bring back a memento, so he stopped, turned around, and snapped a photo.

The photo shows light streaming through the trees and upon the cross. The rays are pale and red.

"I looked at the photo and was deeply moved. The first thing I thought of was how the rays shining down upon the cross and the crash site resembled the rays in the Divine Mercy image that we have in our home," says Kathy.

In her Diary, St. Faustina records the words Jesus spoke explaining the rays in that famous Divine Mercy image: "The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross. Happy is the one who will dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him" (299).

Kathy says, "Looking at those rays, I believe that our Lord was telling me that His love is greater than any tragedy. He's telling me: 'I'll make something good come out of this. There is always hope'."

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Melissa - Feb 8, 2012

Melissa was a ray of sunshine and her light will always shine.

Don Ryan. - Feb 8, 2012

A remarkable photo and story.

Julia S - Feb 9, 2012

Eternal God,
In whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.
AMEN

I see the colors of the rays. God is Real.

Jesus, I Trust In You.

Kim Chevalier Martinson - Feb 10, 2012

I've flown a few times since Melissa left this world. Not being crazy about flying, I have always said a prayer, asking for her intercession & have found comfort in that. I do trust that Jesus has wrapped her in His eternal mercy and love & that Melissa has a great mission of love going on...

To Kathy - Feb 11, 2012

WE WERE VERY TOUCH BY THIS STORY AND YOUR FAITH.

Grammy - Feb 27, 2012

Seeing the rays of the Devine Mercy shining upon the monument and crash site gave me peace. I truely believe they are in Heaven. Thank Yoy Lord for this gift!

MARIA C. - May 24, 2012

What a great and moving story. Divine Mercy is really at work everywhere. We will continue to pray for Melissa and I know she is looking down from heaven to us all here on earth saying, we should TRUST IN JESUS ALWAYS....AMEN.

Lynne-Marie - May 24, 2012

I offer my deepest condolences and assurance of prayers for you and your family and for your beautiful daughter, Melissa, and her friends. Thank you for sharing this testimony of your unwavering faith. We trust completely in Jesus and His assurance of love and mercy. It was beautiful that Melissa asked you to bring her to Church - she possessed that longing for God's love from the time she was a child, and now she rests in the fullness of life in God's loving embrace. God love you.

carol - May 24, 2012

may this beautiful angel rest in the Lord YOU WILL BE IN OUR PRAYER Godc BLESS You Kathy and Dan

NW_Gal - May 24, 2012

A beautiful picture of the site, as the suns rays look like the rays of mercy picture over the area. There are many news stories about locating this crash site, recovery and the investigations. Even the military assisted and many others who helped get this memorial cross up in place at this very remote area.

My cousin Howard died in a private plane crash in the mountains of South America & recovering his body for burial in L.A. was nearly $10,000 years ago. One never forgets those we love!

Peace be with you

Ramaniew - May 24, 2012

God be with you always dear Dan and Kathy. Yes Divine Mercy and Trust is all we need. God Bless

Deacon John - May 25, 2012

Thank you for sharing such a tragic, and yet, beautiful story of God's love. Knowing how Melissa knew the Divine Mercy Devotion very well, I wonder if her last words might not have been..."Jesus I trust in You".

mary ann - May 25, 2012

Kathy: when you prayed to Our Lord that day (in your Church)and you said you gave your family to Him,I think that was all taht was needed. Iam sure Melissa is in Heaven. I also know that the Divine Mercy chaplet when said for the dying is all that is needed. And although you did not know it I think you were praying that chaplet at the same time that plane went down.. You can be at peace. May Jesus give you peace and as always His Mercy. You are a beautiful woman.

Michael - May 26, 2012

A moving story. What really stands out is how important it is for parents to talk about God and his mercy and to teach their children this. It begins and ends in the home. Even if they stumble and fall away at times, they remember and always come back. I am sure Melissa called on God's mercy in her moments of danger because her parents taught her this. We always remember that God's mercy is greater than anything we have ever done or will do.

mam - May 26, 2012

God is with us! Thank-you, Emmanuel!!!

Barbara - May 26, 2012

We lost 4 family members in a plane crash 37 years ago. Not a day goes by that I don't think about their ordeal. But in our case, as in this one, I truly believe Jesus gives them enough time to call out to Him and thus be saved through His Divine Mercy. If you KNOW THAT ONE THING, nothing in life will ever bother you. TRUST HIM ALWAYS!!

Shirley B - May 26, 2012

This was truly a beautiful testimony of God's incomparable love for His children. The need for families to be returning to their spiritual roots has never been greater. When praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet our trust and love for Jesus grows in us and we are drawn to His merciful love as never before; we must share "the Good News" with our love ones who are searching for Him, many in the wrong places. God have mercy. Thank you for sharing.

Angela St. Anne - May 27, 2012

I was really touched and moved by your story. I can feel for you as a mother but I know that God gives us His grace in times of sorrow and we can only trust HIM. What a beautiful picture of the Rays and the Cross !! And a beautiful way of honoring the departed loved ones.. Truly there is HOPE for all of us. May God Bless you and your family.

Celina - May 30, 2012

I really appreciate this app. My problem is when i tap the image on the devotion page it does not go back to home page it seems my iphone hangs. I tried it aso to my ipad the same happen. What shoul i do. Please reply.

Editor - Jun 4, 2012

Hi Celina. Thanks for bringing this matter to our
attention. We will look into it. In the future, please bring your problems with the app to webmaster@marian.org.
God bless!