UPDATE: Seminary students expected home from HaitiText messages have been the only communication from seminary student Jonathan Larson, but his father in Red Wing is relieved to know "He's OK."
By: Ruth Nerhaugen, The Republican Eagle
Text messages have been the only communication from seminary student Jonathan Larson, but his father in Red Wing is relieved to know "He's OK."
His son should be back in Minnesota soon, David Larson said.
Jonathan Larson survived Tuesday's 7.0 earthquake in Haiti, although his cousin and fellow seminary student Ben Larson is believed dead. Jonathan and Ben Larson's wife, Renee Splichal Larson, escaped when the building the three were in collapsed.
The two survivors are "physically fine," David Larson told the R-E. It was his understanding they made it to Puerto Rico Thursday night, and hoped to fly home Friday.
They will not be bringing Ben Larson's body home, as crews can't yet excavate the rubble.
"This is a hugely traumatic event" for the survivors, the Rev. Steve Timm of United Lutheran Church pointed out. Jonathan is a member of United, and Timm said the congregation considers the entire Larson family "extended family" with connections to Red Wing.
"The whole situation is heartbreaking," Timm added. People are relieved Jon and Renee are coming home, but saddened by Ben's death. "We love those guys," he said. "We love the Larson family."
The three young people, all fourth-year students at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, went to Haiti Monday to do mission work.
Jonathan, a 2002 Red Wing High School graduate, and Ben, who is from La Crosse, Wis., were teaching lay teachers for the new Haiti Lutheran Church. Renee Larson, who is originally from Garrison, N.D., was interviewing people while working on a thesis about the new Lutheran Church.
They were staying in a guesthouse at St. Joseph's Home for Boys on a mountain near Port-au-Prince, the capital city which was largely flattened by the earthquake. It was the worst quake to hit the country in more than 200 years.
The seminarians were in the building when the quake hit, according to a report issued Thursday by the Rev. Duane H. Larson, Wartburg president.
"Both Jonathan Larson and Renee Splichal Larson are together safely. ... They made it out, eventually found each other, then returned to St. Joseph guest house in the attempt to rescue Ben, to no avail," he reported.
Renee Larson's parents got a message from the U.S. Embassy that she was OK, David Larson said Wednesday night.
But it was more long hours before he received confirmation that his son also was safe: He got a third-hand report about Jon via a Wartburg student who tracked down a layperson in Florida who had been in Haiti earlier and who apparently had received an e-mail.
"We're so used to communicating easily," David Larson said. "It's frustrating when you can't do that."
The young people did not answer their cell phones, but he knew communication systems had been hard hit so that it was no surprise. His attempts to call the U.S. consulate offices were unsuccessful because so many others were trying to do the same thing.
Benjamin Larson is the youngest child of the Rev. April Ulring Larson, senior pastor at First Lutheran Church in Duluth, and the Rev. Judd Larson, interim pastor at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Duluth.
In comments to the Duluth News Tribune, April Larson said there appears to be no hope her son escaped the collapse.
"No. I don't think so. And if he could have, he would have found a way to his wife," she told reporters Thursday.
The family has visited Red Wing, Timm said. April Larson spoke at special services here in 2008, when United celebrated its anniversary.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Global Mission Unit told Pastors Judd and April Larson that the church will do everything they can to help find Ben and bring him home.
According to his mother, "He was somebody who loved life. Loved living. He loved God and was a person filled-up with joy. He was just a ton of fun. ... He was just one of those people that built love and community wherever he was."
Timm reminded people why the young seminarians were in Haiti.
"I think about the courage and compassion it took for (them) to go to Haiti in the first place," Timm said. "I hope people will be motivated to care, too."
John Myers and Brandon Stahl of the Duluth News Tribune contributed to this story. The Tribune and Republican Eagle are part of Forum Communications Co.