Hundreds attend vigil for Platte family killed in fire

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Platte, SD Hundreds of people in the Platte community gathered at the Christian Reformed Church Thursday night for a vigil honoring the Westerhuis family and everything they meant to the community.

Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their children -- Michael, Connor, Jaeci and Kailey died in a fire early Thursday morning in their home just south of Platte.

“The Westerhuis family was a huge part of the community and with four kids in school, it just devastated the community,” Platte Trinity Lutheran Church Pastor Daniel Daum said.

“It really does affect everyone. When you hear something this tragic the whole town is going to know almost instantly,” Platte Senior Alex Gerlach said.

Thursday night, hundreds of cars filled the streets surrounding the Christian Reformed Church for a community vigil hosted by religious leaders from all of the churches in the community.

“We just wanted an opportunity for the community to be able to come together and grieve together,” Pastor Daum Said.

Many of those pouring into the vigil Thursday night were children who worked to deal with the loss all day.

“A lot of tears, that's for sure,” Platte Senior Alex Daum said.

“It was very quiet, we all came together as a school…and that was when we found out that everyone had passed away and everyone just immediately started weeping,” Gerlach said.

From a sophomore in high school all the way down to the third grade, the Westerhuis children were a big part of this small town school.

“They were all very athletically gifted. They would have been very good; they already were very good at what they did already,” Daum said.

“Michael was in basketball and football and he put all of his effort into everything he did,” Gerlach said.

But it’s not just the Westerhuis kids the community will miss.

“His dad owns like a gym out there so we all went out there and shot hoops a lot, played a lot of basketball and lifted weights and stuff because he had a full gym with everything, weights and stuff that he allowed us to come out and use,” Daum said.

Scott Westerhuis helped train many of the young athletes in Platte, serving as a mentor for many.

“Scott gave everything for us guys, he seriously he gave so much effort and time,” Gerlach said.

“My son trained with him a lot…I know Scott was very important to him and at his athletic events Scott would always come up and usually had a very encouraging word,” Pastor Daum said.

It's a loss the entire town is still trying to understand, especially Platte's youngest members.

“The youngest was in third grade and some of the questions those kids were asking, just why and how do you answer that question ‘why?’ The reality is we’ll probably never know why,” Pastor Daum said.
“My brother is in Conner’s grade which is 8th grade and it’s even difficult for him to process this and I don't think he really realizes yet until he stops seeing him everyday,” Gerlach said.

Still a long road ahead for the people of Platte to recover from such a great loss; for now, many say they are relying on faith to make it through.

“I don't know how you can get by without that, so that's why we're coming together its kind of a prayer service but more of a gathering, to come together and to grieve together,” Pastor Daum said.