Daughter and sister of Humboldt house explosion victims reflects on tragedy

Imagine receiving an phone call around 6 a.m., learning that 1,500 miles away, your only sibling — 22 years old — had died and your parents were being airlifted
Published: Nov. 1, 2023 at 7:56 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Imagine receiving a phone call around 6 a.m., learning that 1,500 miles away, your only sibling — 22 years old — had died and your parents were being airlifted to a hospital after the house you grew up in blew up into pieces.

Hannah Goehring was alone in her home in Scottsdale, Arizona, when her cousin called to deliver her the news of that event two weeks ago, on Oct. 18.

“I was screaming ‘this can’t be happening, ‘this can’t be happening, this can’t be happening,’ for about ten minutes,” Hannah said. “It was the worst day of my life.”

She booked a 9 a.m. flight out of Phoenix to Sioux Falls, not knowing if her parents were going to make it.

“My brain, it was just in a daze. I’m trying to pack. I knew I’d be here for a while,” Hannah said. “All I knew was that Ben was gone. I just packed a bunch of black clothes for a funeral. That’s all I packed, because, I was like, I don’t know if I was going to have one funeral? Three funerals?”

She bawled the entire three-hour plane ride, not knowing of her parents’ fate. After she landed, she learned they had survived.

Authorities are still investigating what caused the massive explosion that literally blew her family away, propelling all of them several feet from the house, in different directions, from where the structure stood.

When Hannah, 21, checked into the hospital that afternoon, she was not allowed to see her mother Lori, who was still in critical condition in the ICU. Hannah immediately cried when she first saw her father Leland, who told her his account of what happened.

“My dad (said he) was trapped under debris, and the first thing he told me was that when he was crawling toward my mom, he found two pictures of me,” Hannah said. “Somehow in the explosion, somehow he found them. That’s insane. He was in his underwear at the time because they were all sleeping, so he stuffed them in there, and he was trying to crawl out to help my mom because they were both screaming. They were screaming for Ben and got no answer.”

Lori remains hospitalized, recovering from 12 broken ribs, a broken pelvis and femur, a fractured hand, and some fractures in her neck. Her brain functions and she can talk, but doctors said she will not be able to bear any weight for 10 weeks. A long road of physical therapy to learn to walk again is ahead.

Leland, 60, was just released yesterday after two weeks, with six broken ribs, a broken hip (which was replaced), brain bleeding, and internal injuries to the spleen, liver, and small intestine. He now lives in the hotel room Hannah has been staying in, and Hannah needs to assist him with things. He’s glad to be out of the hospital but wanted to go right back there to visit Lori first thing this morning.

“It’s been challenging and emotional for all three of us,” Hannah said. “It’s just hard, you know, because you spend two weeks in the hospital and get discharged, and all you want to do is go home. So now, we just have to stay in a hotel room. It’s not the same at all.”

The house, where the family lived for about a decade, is today a pile of rubble on the grounds of an investigation scene. But, it is far from the family’s biggest loss in the tragedy. She was extremely close with Ben, who was 17 months older. When they were younger, people thought they were twins.

“Obviously no one deserves what happens to me and my family,” Hannah said. “No one deserves to lose a child, a brother. Ben, especially does not deserve this because he was so amazing, and just the absolute most perfect human ever. He was kind. He was incredibly smart. Very, very humble. Just always helping people and I’m not joking — I never heard him say a bad thing about anybody. Just incredibly kind and so witty. Just had this great sense of humor and he was just so funny without even trying.”

A prom king at West Central High School, Ben had just graduated summa cum laude from Augustana in May, with a degree in computer science. He had always been the tech wiz of the family, helping his parents and sister figure out everything from computers to Nintendo Wii systems. For the five months since graduation, Ben had been studying for additional certificates in the computer field, which he was excited to join.

“Just talking to him, you wanted to be a better person because of him,” Hannah said. “He’s someone that I really, really looked up to and will forever look up to.”

She was walking in the hospital the other day and saw what appeared to be a medical student or intern, about the same height as Ben, far away and out of the corner of her eye.

“He barely looked like Ben, and I had to do a double take because I was, like, oh, that’s Ben,” Hannah said. “And, it hit me, like, oh, he’s not here. Same thing, — I heard someone laugh and it’s like just a little bit like Ben, and in the back of my mind I was like, oh, it’s Ben. So, it’s just really hard to comprehend everything, and, you know, there are some moments when I’m alone that I get to thinking about it.

“You know, you’re supposed to have your entire life, or you assume you’re supposed to have your entire life, with your sibling. After your parents are gone, you assume they’ll be with you, and it’s really hard to understand or believe I don’t have him anymore, and that my parents won’t have him. It’ll just be me.”

She teared up again, then wiped the tear.

Those three are my entire world. Like, my entire world. So, it’s just hard. And, then, the realization that I’m going to get married and he’s not going to be there. I’m going to have kids one day. They’re not going to know their uncle, and I was hoping Ben would get married first so I can like wait until I’m 35, hoping he would have kids and then I would have another family — his wife, his kids, you know?”

On that fateful day, Lori was three days away from her 60th birthday. Hannah, a 21-year-old Pilates instructor, has been planning a clothing line as her next career move, and Lori was going to be the first to know, on her birthday.

But those professional plans are on hold as Hannah helps run the family farm with farm hands. On Thursday, she’ll drive to Mitchell to put the family’s calves up for sale, since Leland won’t physically be able to work for quite some time.

She’d like to plan a funeral for Ben but said there won’t be one until Lori is out of the hospital. That won’t be for at least a couple of months.

But friends, family, and strangers are already helping the family pay for that and her parents’ medical expenses, via a GoFundMe page.

Last week, over 100 family and friends helped harvest the over 500 acres of corn and soybeans of Goehring family farmland. Some were there by 8 a.m. Some worked the land. Some farmers’ wives and others stayed back with Hannah for support and brought food.

Many told her it was the least they could do because Leland and Lori are two of the most selfless people you’ll meet, Hannah said.

“It’s absolutely amazing and comforting,” Hannah said. “Since the day it happened, I’ve had a lot of people call me, text me, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook me, my cousins, my entire family. And, just getting those messages of love and support is very comforting, especially the heartfelt ones that mention Ben.”

More help is on the way — a fundraiser for the family on Saturday, November 18, from Noon to 5 p.m., at 120 Main Events — the old American Legion in Hartford. There will be a pork loin dinner and a DJ. Hannah said it would be another way to celebrate Ben’s life.

“It just warms my heart that people saw Ben the way I did, and the way he was, so we can never ever ever ever thank everyone for their support,” Hannah said. “There’s just no words for this and what happened and just no amount of words to thank everyone and truly show our gratitude and our appreciation, and it’s just so overwhelming in the best way of how much support we have.”

Everything going on — from the awful to the wonderful — is overwhelming, Hannah said. She and Leland remind each other to take things one day at a time. To just get through the next day.

She can’t yet comprehend or process all of it.

“October 18th, you know, my world just turned upside down and it still honestly doesn’t feel real,” Hannah said. “I’m running around, trying to get things taken care of with the farm. Our house is gone, my brother is gone, and everything is just piling on top of each other. So, I haven’t even gotten to, you know, stop and think about things.”