Correction: This story incorrectly reported the circumstances of the crash. The story has been corrected.
A tired smile flashed across Isabella “Izzy” Kitterman’s face as the 13-year-old crash survivor greeted the crowd outside her house in south Tulsa.
More than 100 people — many of them her classmates at Jenks Middle School — lined both sides of the street in the Silver Chase neighborhood Tuesday to welcome Izzy home from the hospital. Cheers rang out as the SUV she was riding in appeared on Louisville Avenue from 101st Street and pulled into the Kitterman driveway.
The throng of supporters swarmed the family’s yard and eagerly waited as Izzy was helped into a wheelchair, which she has been confined to since the July 17 crash that claimed four lives and left the teen in critical condition. Some carried signs exclaiming “You rock,” while others rang cowbells that stood out among the jubilation.
News of the welcoming-home event spread after Izzy’s soccer club, TSC-Hurricane, encouraged people to come together and support the Kittermans.
“They’re just such an amazing family, and the community has really pulled together around them,” neighbor Heather Evans said. “We all just wanted to be here to help cheer her on.”
Izzy was flown to an Oklahoma City hospital after the vehicle she was riding in collided with the back end of a tractor-trailer rig that was stopped on Interstate 35 near Purcell due to traffic congestion as a result of road construction. The crash occurred following a summer outing at Turner Falls with soccer club friends.
Her brother, 11-year-old Beck Kitterman, and stepsister, 13-year-old Elizabeth “Lizzy” Edwards, died as a result of the crash. Also killed were 40-year-old Erin Van Horn, who was driving the vehicle, and her 10-year-old son, Zac Van Horn. Samantha Van Horn, 7, was treated and released the same day, while 13-year-old Lauren Van Horn was hospitalized in critical condition.
Once she was medically stable, Izzy was moved to the Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital in Bethany, where she underwent months of rigorous physical therapy after doctors feared she would never walk again.
Perhaps most excited to see Izzy return home was Lauren Van Horn, who received a similar welcome from the community upon her hospital release in late July.
The two have chatted briefly through texts since the crash, but Lauren said she couldn’t wait to have a “good long talk” with her best friend. She said she believes the tragedy they endured will bring them closer together.
Lauren was overjoyed to see the community turn out for Izzy’s homecoming like it did for hers, and she can speak from experience that the emotional outpouring helps the recovery process.
“It honestly feels so good to know that people care and that they’re here for us,” she said. “It’s overwhelming.”
As for Izzy’s condition, Lauren said the prognosis has improved. She is believed to eventually regain full functionality of her legs, though maybe not her hands.
Lauren said her own recovery has come a long way and recalled the difficulty of relearning how to fully walk. Her fight isn’t over, however, as the pain persists.
“I just having to keep going,” she said. “I don’t have a choice.”
The aftermath of the crash devastated the Jenks eighth-grade class, and many found it difficult to cope with the sudden loss of friends and the severity of Izzy’s injuries.
But classmate Jaden Harwood said she and her friends never doubted Izzy would one day walk again.
“We had prayer groups for her,” Jaden said. “Izzy is such a strong person, and we all knew she was going to be OK.”
Jaden was one of many students who came out to the welcoming event to cheer for their friend.
“It means a lot to all of us because this is one of the last big steps for her kind of returning to a normal life,” she said. “We’re really excited to have her at school because it’s really hard not having all of them there. We’re just really excited and happy for her.”