Mistaken Identity

A few years back there was a big story about a horrific car accident involving students and staff from Taylor University in Indiana.  9 people from Taylor, 5 students and 4 staff members were riding in the van that was hit by a semi-trailer. 5 of them died at the scene, and 4 were seriously injured. Of the four injured, only one was a student. In a bizarre twist, two of the victims were mis-identified. The family of Whitney Cerak was told she had died in the crash, while the family of Laura Van Ryn was told that their daughter was critically injured, but alive. For five weeks the Van Ryn’s cared for, loved and prayed for a girl they thought was Laura, while the Cerak family grieved the loss of Whitney, whom was presumed to be dead.

Sometime during this five week period, The Cerak’s started a blog to update friends and family on “Laura’s” condition. Somewhere during this time, I heard about the accident and started reading the blog. I was blown away by the faith of this family and by the love and support they were receiving from so many. When it was discovered that “Laura” was in fact Whitney, the families responded in such an amazing way. The whole story was so fascinating and for some reason it just really grabbed me and I’ve never let it go. A few weeks back, I did a Google search for Whitney Cerak, just to see if there were any updates on her life since the accident. That’s when I discovered the book that had been co-written by the two families.

Meet Laura Van Ryn and Whitney Cerak: one buried under the wrong name, one in a coma and being cared for by the wrong family.

This shocking case of mistaken identity stunned the country and made national news. Would it destroy a family? Shatter their faith? Push two families into bitterness, resentment, and guilt?

Read this unprecedented story of two traumatized families who describe their ordeal and explore the bond sustaining and uniting them as they deal with their bizarre reversal of life lost and life found.

And join Whitney Cerak, the sole surviving student, as she comes to terms with her new identity, forever altered, yet on the brink of new beginnings.

Mistaken Identity weaves a complex tale of honesty, vulnerability, loss, hope, faith, and love in the face of one of the strangest twists of circumstances imaginable.

So, I found this book through the library and had it read very quickly. The story is so intense that it’s hard to stop reading. I can’t begin to imagine the tragic circumstances that these families endured, but I do know a bit about loss and grief, and so I can relate to their experience in that way. I was so touched both by their faith and their grief.  There were a few moments that really touched my heart in this book. One occurred when Carly, the sister of Whitney, was first told her sister was dead.

As she sat sobbing, a thought pierced her mind. Okay, Carly, here is the big test. Do you love God even though your sister is dead? She looked up at her friends, tears running down her face. “God is still good,” she said. “This accident didn’t change that at all.”

How amazing is that? And, so true! God is still God and he is still good no matter what the circumstances.

When Lisa, the sister of laura, first found out that her sister was critically injured in the accident, she immediately grabbed her toothbrush, cell phone, a sweatshirt and her bible. This was all she packed for the trip. Four items grabbed in a hurried attempt to pack. The essentials if you will. As I read this, I wondered if I would have reached for my bible automatically. After all, It should be such an essential.

Reading this story, you can’t help but wonder…”How did they not know?” How could you spend five weeks with someone and not know who they are? I think it’s probably one of those things you would have to experience first hand to make any sense of it. And, that it happened at all, has caused such publicity, which in turn has been such a great opportunity for these families to share their faith and encourage many. And, so, I think the families would agree that much good has been produced for God’s glory through these unusual circumstances.

Truly, I was blown away by the faith of these families. I highly recommend reading this book. The circumstances are tragic and sad, but this story is full of hope and inspiration and an unbelievable amount of faith.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the families of Laura Van Ryn and Whitney Cerak, and Whitney herself for sharing their story. And, though it’s been 4 years since this tragedy unfolded, grief holds no time table. I pray continued peace and comfort for those who lost loved ones in this terrible crash. May God continue to comfort you all.


One thought on “Mistaken Identity

  1. adrienne

    So cool…somewhere in the back of my mind is familiarity in this story, but I can’t place it.

    Now I want to learn more.


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