Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Man loses wife, 4 children in flood

Cincinnati native met tragedy on Kansas highway

By Kevin Aldridge and Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Cincinnati-area family is mourning the deaths of four children swept away with their mother in the family minivan by a flash flood in eastern Kansas.

A recent of Robert and Melissa Rogers and their children: MaKenah, top, Nicholas, left, Alenah, center, and Zachary.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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Robert Rogers, 37, a Cincinnati native, managed to escape the van, but could only watch helplessly Saturday as a wall of water dragged it for more than a mile.

Rogers' four children - Makenah, 8, Zachary, 5, Nicholas, 3, and Alenah, 1 - were found dead, three of them still strapped in the mangled minivan. The search for their mother, Melissa, was called off late Monday as darkness fell. She is presumed dead.

Torrential rains near Emporia sent water from a normally dry creek bed over Interstate 35, carrying the van and several other vehicles away.

At a Monday afternoon news conference in Emporia, Robert Rogers read a statement about his family's ordeal. With his parents, George and Mary Francis Rogers of Florence, and his in-laws standing behind him, he spoke about his deep faith, and appeared composed and at peace, even as he described the awful moments before the van was swept away.

He said their vehicle was caught between other stopped vehicles on the turnpike and was wedged against a concrete median wall by the quick-rising waters.

While Robert Rogers, a 1984 St. Xavier High grad, speaks at a news conference Monday, his parents, George and Mary Frances Rogers of Florence (right), show their grief.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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"Our children were screaming and terrified," he said. The rushing waters prevented an escape on foot, so he and his wife decided their only hope was through the driver's side window.

When the median walls gave way and the van was swept into a culvert, Rogers said, he was sucked out the open window. His wife and oldest daughter, though unbuckled, could not get out. The younger children were found still belted into their seats.

"I've been told it's a miracle that I'm even alive," Rogers said.

The search for Melissa Rogers was focused on a rain-swollen reservoir three miles south of I-35 behind a dam, fire officials said.

Relatives, neighbors and friends expressed shock and sadness over the deaths.

Outside the Rogers home in Liberty, Mo., Sherrie Moody and her children leave stuffed animals in memory of the Rogers' children.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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Peggy McElroy, a friend and former Westwood neighbor of the Rogers family, said she spoke with Rogers' mother by phone as she prepared to board a plane bound for Kansas. She said the woman made a single request.

"She just wanted me to call Father (Edward Rudemiller) and have him to ask people to pray (for them), so that's what I did," McElroy said.

Rudemiller, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Westwood, where the Rogers family routinely attended church before moving to Northern Kentucky, said they were in his prayers.

"They were a very lovely family - strong in faith, and very close to one another," Rudemiller said. "It's a terrible tragedy. It just tears your heart apart."

Robert Rogers is a 1984 graduate of St. Xavier High School and attended the University of Cincinnati. He is employed as a computer science engineer.

Tina Jensen, 37, of Liberty, Mo., where Robert and Melissa Rogers lived, said the couple did everything with their children.

Jensen, a neighbor for the past five years, said the couple adopted 1-year-old Alenah from China this year.

Jensen said Makenah had just begun first grade. Zachary had Down syndrome, and Jensen said Melissa learned sign language to better communicate with him.

"You'd think that alone would be enough to overwhelm them, and then to go and adopt another baby," said Sue Meyer, Robert's aunt, who lives in West Chester Township. "But she just loved her kids and was so patient."

Meyer saw them last spring with the new baby. "They were thrilled," she said.

The baby was just adjusting to American food. Meyer said Alenah didn't want to eat her food, but rather wanted to carry it around with her because she was not used to having so much to eat.

"They just loved kids, that was what their whole focus was," Jensen said. "Melissa was a phenomenal mom, and (Robert) was a very devoted father."

Melissa and Robert met in Boston, while Robert was doing an internship and Melissa was attending school. They moved about six years ago from California to the Kansas City area to be closer to Melissa's family, relatives said.

"I'm not quite sure why God left Robert and took the others. It doesn't make sense to me," Jensen said. "Maybe it's a test of faith."

Robert has put his faith in God, said his brother Paul, a cardiologist who lives in West Chester.

Paul Rogers spoke with his brother Sunday night and recited a verse from the Bible: Neither death, nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor height, nor depth can separate us from the love of God.

Paul Rogers said his brother sounded peaceful and thanked him for praying for him.

"I just don't know how he's going to get through this," Meyer said. "But if anybody can, he will because he's got great faith."

Anyone who heard Robert Rogers' statement Monday afternoon would have no doubt.

"We will get through this," he said. "We will rise above this, and by God's grace, some good will come from this."


The Associated Press contributed.

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