Robert Byrd would have been with his family this weekend celebrating his graduation from Ole Miss, but instead, he is back in North Carolina after a plane crash claimed the lives of four of those family members.
What would have been a celebration turned somber this weekend, with Byrd flying back home to Asheville, North Carolina after his father, two brothers, and one brother’s fiancee were killed in the crash.
The graduation took on a sad tone, with Ole Miss leaders saying their thoughts were with the Byrd family.
“This is something that is hard to believe and deeply saddening,” said Brandi Hephner Labanc, the school’s vice chancellor for student affairs. “Our hearts and prayers go out to him and his family.”
Lebanc said Ole Miss learned about the family members’ fatal plane crash from a phone call directly from University-Oxford Airport.
“Our initial response was to support the student,” Labanc said. “We went to him and met with him. We wanted to make sure he had the support he needed from the university.”
Friends say that family members were excited to watch Byrd graduate and receive his degree in finance.
“It was his on-call weekend and he was excited to go to his brother’s graduation,” said Nicholas Bowman, who worked with Christopher Byrd at a real estate firm, in an interview with WSB-TV. “They had this trip planned so I swapped with him to be able to make the trip so he wouldn’t have to be bothered with work.”
Faculty members also said they would do whatever they could to support the Byrd family.
“I know I speak for the entire finance department in saying that our thoughts and prayers go out to him,” said Bonnie Van Ness, department chair and Otho Smith professor of finance. “I hope that we, as his Ole Miss family, can provide some comfort as he goes through the grieving process.”
The plane carrying the family members crashed onto the busy I-285 in DeKalb. Witnesses said it burst into flames after crashing.
“I looked into my rear view mirror and saw this mass of flames,” said Bunny Lenhard, who was driving and heard the plane fly over her car before it crashed. “Everybody says this, but it really does feel very surreal … to the point of … ‘did I really see that?'”
“It’s just horrible. I couldn’t stop shaking.”
The family members killed in the plane crash were remembered at the graduation itself. The School of Business Administration asked for a moment of silence to support Robert Byrd and his family.
[Image via KSB-TV]