An added crash heartache: What happens to Crawford children?

Just 36 hours after her sister, brother-in-law and niece were killed in a car crash on their way to a soccer match, Erika Schmidt was grappling Saturday with two seemingly incomprehensible and irreconcilable tasks.

At the same time Schmidt and her parents were planning memorial services for 52-year-old Kevin, 50-year-old Anita, and 20-year-old Kirsten Crawford, they were trying to determine the logistics of raising the family's two surviving children, 15-year-old Hailee and 10-year-old Christian.

"We don't know any of that right now," Schmidt said from the front stoop of her parents' Mount Prospect home, just a few blocks away from St. John Lutheran Church where a joint funeral will be held Tuesday. "It's too much to deal with. They were all very, very close."

Hailee and Christian, meanwhile, were being looked after by another relative at their Arlington Heights home as friends from church and school dropped by throughout the day.

"Wisely, the family recognizes that the children need to have a familiar environment, they need to seek some comfort from those familiar things around them, including their pets and toys," said the Rev. Jeff Gavin, pastor at St. John. "In the absence of their parents, they need to be experiencing continuity in their lives. The less things that are taken away from them, the better."

Kevin, Anita and Kirsten Crawford were turning into the parking lot of the Lattof YMCA in Des Plaines Thursday night when their car was struck by a Mercedes-Benz driven by 21-year-old Piotr Rog.

Rog's car was estimated to be going 100 mph on Northwest Highway.

The impact mangled the family's Chevrolet Impala and the Mercedes-Benz.

Rog and the three Crawfords were killed as a result of the crash, which Des Plaines Police Chief Bill Kushner said was the worst he's seen in his four-decade law enforcement career.

Another passenger in Rog's Mercedes was critically injured and remained at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. An update on his condition was not immediately available Saturday.

Kushner said there also were no available updates on the investigation of the crash. That investigation is expected to last a few weeks.

A crash reconstructionist is expected to set to work Monday to determine the physics and dynamics of how the crash occurred, a task Kushner said will be greatly aided if event data recorders - black boxes installed in many cars that record crash information - can be recovered.

"If we can find them, then we can utilize them," he said. "I don't know if we'll ever be able to."

As more details are gathered about Kevin, Anita and Kirsten's final moments, Hailee and Christian will be sorting through myriad emotions of their own as they begin life without their parents and sister, Lombard-based child psychologist Carla Gehle said.

She said the children will experience different types of grief because of their respective ages.

Teenagers, like Hailee, are likely to most acutely feel the severance of an emotional bond when dealing with the loss of a parent, Gehle said. For a younger child like Christian, the loss is likely to feel more survival-based - as the people who cooked his meals, folded his laundry and drove him to school are now absent.

Schmidt said Kirsten Crawford, a decade older than her younger brother, served as a sort of third parent for Christian.

"She was his little mom," she said.

Both children may experience some difficulty in expressing how they're feeling, Gehle said.

"Children may say, 'I feel angry.' In reality, they're feeling sadness," she said. "Grief comes out of them in different forms, and they're not always able to communicate that effectively."

Jennifer Murphy-Cazares, also of Arlington Heights, became the guardian of Bridget and Pierce Finnerty, now 20 and 14, after the children's parents and their brother were killed in a fire set by their father in 2009.

"I know this event changed us all. It opened our eyes to what is important in life and bonded us as a community," Murphy-Cazares wrote in an open letter the Daily Herald published the year after the fire. "We made it through all our firsts this year. Our first day of school, our first teacher conference, our first Christmas, our first vacation, and with each turning point, I would smile and cry. Each moment was bittersweet for myself and my family. Jerry and I feel so lucky to share each of these moments with Bridgit and Pierce, but I also wish it wasn't us and (their mother and brother) could be here with them. ... The kids are enjoying their life as typical children would, always smiling and always laughing. We are a family now and I owe all of it, that we got here to this spot, to all of you."

Gavin, who spent Saturday morning with the family, said it is the overwhelming sense of community that is helping the family through their initial shock and grief.

A GoFundMe page set up by parents from the children's schools had raised more than $33,000 as of Saturday afternoon. Money raised is said to go toward their educations.

"I'm very thankful they are reflecting their true Christian faith," Gavin said. "It is that faith that can enable them to cope with and endure especially with these next few days ahead, to grant them with the necessary strength to go on. And how to plan to help those two children and take a tragedy and turn it into a life that can continue."

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  Kristen Benwitz of Mount Prospect brings a card from her son Jack and white lillies to a makeshift memorial for the Crawford family members killed in an auto crash Thursday night. The memorial is near the site of the crash along Northwest Highway in Des Plaines. Mark Welsh/
A photo of the Crawford family, from left to right, Christian, Kevin, Kirsten, Hailee and Anita. Courtesy OF Erika Schmidt
Kevin Crawford, one of four people killed in a crash in Des Plaines, founded the Chicago Fire Juniors Gold soccer club in 2011. Courtesy of Chicago Fire Juniors Gold soccer club
The Crawford family had a passion for soccer, evidenced by their participation and support in a youth club team. Pictured giving high-fives are Kirsten, left, Anita, and Kevin, who all died Thursday night in a crash in Des Plaines. Courtesy of Chicago Fire Juniors Gold soccer club
  Mourners have created a memorial to the Crawfords along Northwest Highway in Des Plaines. Mark Welsh/

How to help

A GoFundMe campaign has been created to support Christian and Hailee Crawford, who lost their parents and older sister in a car accident Thursday night in Des Plaines.

To donate, visit

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