Ciara Hooker is living every parent’s worst nightmare. But while she is struggling to cope with her son's death in a school bus accident, she reached out to someone else who is hurting — the bus driver.
“There are no words to make this ache go away,” Hooker told TODAY Parents.
On Sept. 27, Hooker’s 5-year-old son, Tyson Mendoza, was killed when his school bus, which was carrying 11 other children, collided with a sport-utility vehicle in Moultrie County, Illinois, Both Mendoza and the driver of the SUV, Lori Samples, 56, were pronounced dead at the scene. The crash remains under investigation.
Since 2006, there have been 36 crashes at the intersection where the fatalities occurred, Trooper Joseph Rush with the Illinois State Police told TODAY Parents. This is the second incident involving a school bus.
As Hooker tries to process her son's death, her thoughts are with someone else who is hurting at the moment.
“I would like for everyone to please say a prayer for Sam the bus driver,” Hooker wrote in a remarkable Facebook post. “My son loved Sam and as heavy as my heart is… I can’t imagine how he is feeling."
Hooker's message has since gone viral with more than 1,000 shares.
“What a beautiful soul you have. Everyone has been touched by the kindness of your unselfish heart,” wrote one person. Added another, “This just brought tears to my eyes.”
Jim Waggoner, a bus driver for the Sullivan School District where Mendoza attended kindergarten, called the tragedy a “bus driver’s worst nightmare.”
“When I left home this morning to drive to the garage I did not know my heart would be so heavy,” he wrote on Facebook. “I knew today was different but it was way more than I thought.”
Waggoner had been warned that his bus would likely be pretty empty that day. But to his surprise, every child was waiting outside to be picked up.
“That removed a lot of weight from my heart,” Waggoner wrote. “THANK YOU.”
Students and staff at Sullivan Elementary School wore blue — Mendoza’s favorite color — on the Monday after he was killed.
“He was a great student, loved to learn and make new friends,” according to Mendoza’s obituary. “He enjoyed playing outside and riding his four-wheeler. He was the sweetest and most loving little boy. Tyson’s smile and tender heart will be deeply missed.”