CHICAGO -- The four families waited and worried and finally searched the streets through the long night. Their children, all friends from high school, had never returned home.
Shortly after daybreak, they got the grim news. A car was found overturned in a creek, and inside were the bodies of two boys and two girls, ages 14 to 17. Their children.
Melissa Robertson cried as the car was slowly towed from Forked Creek southeast of Wilmington, Ill., praying that her niece Micalah Sembach was not among the bodies inside.
"(I was) praying, begging, pleading, willing to trade," Robertson said, her eyes filling with tears. "Fifteen years old. I'm already tired. She didn't even have a chance to get tired. ... I'm old and tired. I would have gladly gone in her place."
Kim Fender, an aunt of one of the other victims, Cheyenne Fender, 17, learned of the crash when her sister-in-law called with the news.
"She called me this morning crying," Fender said. "She was just crying and crying, and she didn't know exactly what happened. I know (Cheyenne) didn't come home last night like she was supposed to."
Fender said she didn't see her niece often, but the last time she did was about a year ago when the teen was visiting her grandmother in Altamont, Ill. She said Cheyenne was "a cute, cute baby" and had grown into an outgoing young woman.
The other victims were identified as Cody Carter, 15, and Matt Bailey, 14. Three of the victims were students at Wilmington High School, the fourth a former student there.
The four were driving along Ballou Road sometime overnight when the two-door Mitsubishi plunged into Forked Creek.
Around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, a school bus driver saw a tire sticking out of the creek, officials said. Emergency crews arrived and found the guard rail on the Ballou Road bridge over Forked Creek missing. A dive team called to the scene saw at least one body in the car, and a tow truck pulled the two-door Mitsubishi from the water. A blue tent was set up as the bodies were taken from the car.