One person is dead after an Alabama church bus carrying a youth group crashed into a Mercedes on Thursday afternoon. (Credit: Channel 2 Action News)

Teen killed in Fulton County church bus crash; dozens injured 

Sarah Harmening’s mom Karen choked back tears as she read her daughter’s final journal entry before her mission trip to Botswana with her Alabama youth group. 

“I was just reminded of why I’m here,” she wrote, “and that God called me here, and he’s done so for a reason. So I know he’s going to do incredible things.”  

The 17-year-old was killed when a Mt. Zion Baptist Church bus from Huntsville overturned onto a black Mercedes sedan, injuring the youth group passengers. Harmening had been afraid to travel, but her faith in God restored her confidence in going, her family said at a news conference late Thursday night. 

The bus was en route to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport at the time of the crash. First responders at the intersection of Camp Creek Parkway and Merk Road extricated one victim from the bus. The wreck shut down the roadway for roughly six hours. 

Police aren’t yet sure what led to the deadly crash. It was unclear Friday morning which agency is investigating the crash. 

The church is registered as a "private passenger-non-business" operator with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation that regulates interstate trucking and passenger buses and vans.

The church reported to federal regulators that it has three such vehicles and 10 drivers and was registered for interstate operation, according to the most recent federal data. Its vehicles had no record of previous crashes or violations or of having been previously inspected or investigated by federal authorities.

Fulton County police said 38 people were on board the bus at the time of the crash. Local hospitals treated 33 victims. 

Three victims were taken to WellStar Kennestone Hospital, six victims were taken to Atlanta Medical Center and 15 were taken to Atlanta Medical Center’s south campus, hospital president Kim Ryan said at a press conference late Thursday evening. 

Ryan didn’t have exact ages of the those injured, but said the church members were in their late teens and early 20s. She also did not release the conditions of the patients.

All but four of the 24 patients taken to WellStar hospitals had been treated and released, WellStar spokeswoman Sharon Salmon said Friday.

She has not released their conditions but said one of them is a trauma patient at Atlanta Medical Center.

Another of the patients taken to the hospital, 18-year-old Ashley Joy Walker had a broken ankle, grandmother Judith Crocker told Channel 2 Action News. 

Crocker said the Walker graduated high school two weeks ago and recently received a scholarship from Auburn University. She was too shaken to talk about the crash. 

Officials were thankful they were able to respond quickly, Atlanta Medical Center’s vice president of administration Daniel Jackson said. 

"We feel very fortunate that we were able to meet the needs of patients at this time,” Jackson said a the press conference. 

Six of the victims were treated at Southern Regional Medical Center, Kimberly Golden Benner, spokeswoman for the hospital, said.

Nine others, including four who were critically injured, were taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, spokeswoman Denise Simpson said. 

All but four were treated and released by Friday, and the four still at the hospital are in stable condition, Simpson said.

Chaplains and hospital staff were available to speak with victims, and parents were encouraged to contact Chris Hunter at American Medical Response to find loved ones. 

Mt. Zion Baptist Church officials had begun the process of reaching out to parents after the news struck. Information about when the group left and how long they planned to be in Africa was not available. 

The church took to Facebook asking for prayers and received several offers for assistance. U.S. Senator David Perdue sent condolences via his Twitter account. The church thanked those for reaching out to them.

“Our people are grateful for the outpouring of blessing and love,” read the post. “Please remember us in the weeks to come as we grieve and process this impact to our community. All of your prayers are greatly appreciated.”

Local churches opened their doors to the victims and their families and a Chick-fil-A branch offered food. 

South Fulton mayor Bill Edwards said he’s proud the city came together and helped families through the tragedy. 

“There are no words you can say at this time to truly make people feel good,” he said. “We’e only been city for less than two months, but I  saw what we could do when challenges like this come.” 

Channel 2's Audrey Washington reports

— Staff writers J.D. Capelouto and Lauren Foreman contributed to this article.

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