NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The tragic death of little Autumn Humphrey as a result of a freakish accident on the parking lot of First Baptist Church of North Kansas City has resulted in acts of forgiveness, comfort and renewal for her family and for members of the congregation.
As 11-month-old Autumn was being carried by her grandfather, Ronald Barnett, following morning worship at the church on Sept. 16, a car driven by another member, an older gentleman, lurched across the parking lot and struck them and the baby’s aunt, Stephne Barnett, fatally injuring Autumn and injuring both adults.
All three were rushed to North Kansas City Hospital, where Autumn died, and the two adults were hospitalized temporarily with non-life threatening injuries. The child’s parents, Richard and Amanda, were also outside the church building when the accident occurred but were not injured.
The congregation gathered later Sunday afternoon around the site of the accident for a special prayer service for the grieving family.
“I frequently tell you this is a good place, and this evening I believe that by God’s grace we will become an even better place,” Senior Pastor Tiger Pennington told them.
On the following Saturday, Pennington told reporters outside the packed church shortly before the child’s funeral that he earlier heard something that moved him to tears.
Richard and Amanda Humphrey asked to meet with the 88-year-old driver of the car involved in the accident.
“The most real expressions of faith and Christianity I think I’ve ever seen in my life occurred inside just a few minutes ago as Richard and Amanda and that entire family embraced the driver of the car and said, “We know it was an accident. We forgive you,” Pennington said, according to The Kansas City Star.
Then the family asked the man to sit with them during the packed memorial service.
“We gather on this first day of autumn to celebrate the gift of Autumn,” Pennington told mourners. “We gather to acknowledge the grief and to begin the journey of working through to peace.”
The pastor recounted the amazing things the family has been able to do and described their act of forgiveness.
“It must be said this day that perhaps the most powerful expression of real faith — of real Christianity — that I’ve ever been privileged to witness took place somewhere about 1:15 this afternoon,” he said.
The pastor used the refrain, “Autumn made us better,” during the memorial service.
One of the speakers at the memorial service was Patti Bradley, a North Kansas City Hospital nurse manager in the neonatal intensive care unit, who recalled the day Autumn was born on Sept. 30, 2011.
Autumn had arrived nine weeks premature. When her mother’s heart stopped beating during delivery, the baby’s response alerted the attending medical staff that the mother’s life was in danger, she said. In effect, the infant helped save her mother’s life.
Weighing in at 3 pounds, 13 ounces at birth, Autumn fought through multiple complications and was discharged just before Thanksgiving last year.
On the Sunday after the memorial service — during the pastoral prayer — Autumn’s extended family sat in the pew behind the driver, his wife and adult daughter, and placed a prayer shawl around the shoulders of the man and his family. A family member from nearby Avondale United Methodist Church’s prayer shawl ministry had provided it, along with a note from that church.
During the invitation in the second service that morning, Amanda Humphrey came forward requesting baptism and church membership based on a previous profession of faith. The young family had been attending First Baptist for over a year.
A week later, on Sept. 30, on what would have been Autumn’s first birthday, the young mother was baptized in a climax to the morning service.
“It was an emotional experience for Amanda, her family, the church family and me,” Pennington said. “There was an eruption of tears from her,” and the congregation responded to the baptism with spontaneous applause, he added.
Reflecting on all that has transpired, Pennington noted, “And two weeks later, through little Autumn, God is indeed making us better.”