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Faith helping Wyoming family cope after two teen siblings die in car crash

Posted at 10:28 PM, Feb 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-22 16:17:37-05

RALSTON, Wyo. — Last week was a tragic one for the communities of Powell and Lovell, Wyoming after a car crash took the lives of two teen siblings: Peiton Hackenberg,17, and Phoenix Hackenberg, 15.

"I'm sure we'll get the full report eventually, but I know that it was a slick morning and I know that she crossed the center line," said Brenda Hackenberg, mother of the two teens on Monday. "But those two together were absolute best friends. They were absolute best friends. So in a way, I take comfort in knowing that they went together."

The Hackenberg teens were both enrolled in high school in Lovell: Peiton a Junior and Phoenix a freshman. They had two older siblings: Reece, 21, who lives in North Carolina and Maddi, who is currently attending college in Casper.

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(From left) Reece Hackenberg, Brenda Hackenberg and Maddi Hackenberg sit with MTN News for a video call interview on Monday evening.

The crash happened Wednesday morning last week east of Powell on a stretch of highway that doesn't get much sun to melt accumulated snow and ice, Reece said.

"I'm sure it was super slick there. I've been in vehicles also that have lost control in that spot. I could see it happening," Reece said.

"Where the two vehicles impacted, was on passengers sides. I'd be willing to bet that the other driver swerved out of the way," Brenda said.

Peiton Hackenberg, 17, was remembered in a funeral service at New Life Church of Powell.

Through the tragedy, the family has had seen huge support from the community.

"I've been messaged from people who knew them and it's so so comforting just how they made them laugh. And how Peiton always had a smile on her face. And how Phoenix was a wild man," Maddi said.

"Just seeing how everybody loved them is great to us. There's people that I don't even know that were friends with Phoenix and Peiton that have been talking to us and about how much they love them. It's awesome to see," Reece added.

Phoenix Hackenberg (left) and his older brother Reece.

The family said around 700 people turned out to the New Life Church of Powell on Saturday for the funeral service. It was also live streamed to a school gym in Lovell, so the student body could pay tribute to their classmates.

The Ralston family said their faith is what's been helping them stay strong, but this isn't the first time they've had to lean on it in the face of tragedy. The family's father and husband, Zach Hackenberg, took his own life after a battle with addiction in 2017.

"As we've navigated through that previous tragedy, it's hard not to ask the question why? Why us? Why again, we have to do this again?," Brenda said.

"That just brought our family so much closer than it ever had been," Maddi said.

"It taught us to see each other differently and to see those relationships differently and cherish them in a different way," Brenda added.

"That's another thing that brings me comfort, like I kind of talked about. I know that I don't have a regret at all about how I loved my brother and sister," Reece concluded.

Brenda said the family's faith has helped ease the burden of grief, but faith can't take the pain away entirely.

"(God has) definitely given us peace. A different kind of peace when my husband, Zach, died. Their is a peace. Not to say that there isn't grief and sadness. There are no words to explain how this feels, but there is also a peace," Brenda said.

"Our lives are so intertwined. It's going to be a long road to untangle all of those things, because they are not here," she added.

The family said they have a close-knit support system that's helping them through this tough time. The amount of support has been overwhelming and many people have donated money to the family over the past days. While nothing is set in stone yet, Brenda said she would like to use the money to help others in the community.

"A lot of that money is just going to turn right back into ministry, so that lives can continue to be impacted by Peiton and Phoenix," Brenda said.

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