MENDON, Mo. — The spirit of teamwork is alive in Mendon, Missouri.
The community of 171 feels like a family, which the town extended with open arms nearly a year ago during Mendon's darkest hour.
“It happened on a Monday. I got the call from Chariton County dispatch there had been a train derailment," recalled Northwestern R-1 School District Superintendent Eric Hoyt. "They knew they needed to use the building (school) as a triage center. I told them, 'Absolutely. Please, just come to the school. I don’t know what we need yet, but we could definitely use the help.' It was first responders, nurses, staff members, students.”
KSHB 41 anchor Kevin Holmes was part of the news crew that rushed to the scene shortly after the derailment.
He said what stood out to him was the scene of first responders — some from the Columbia area, others from St. Louis and a group from the Kansas City metro — making their way to the school to help.
“There’s always a call to help, and whenever that call goes out, it’s amazing how many people will respond. And that’s what’s happened in our community," Hoyt said.
Courtney Jessen was among those who answered the call.
KSHB 41 spoke with her on the day of the deadly derailment the certified nursing assistant was in between caring for patients.
“Oh my gosh, it was chaotic. We had people going in and out. Multiple ambulances taking people to different hospitals. Life flight from all over," Jessen said. "I remember walking in the gym and just seeing a bunch of chairs set up and people were getting name tags put on them. My adrenaline was just pumping. I didn’t even know what I was doing, but I was doing it correct.”
The adrenaline-filled gym-turned-triage center was busy but "never felt overwhelming" to Hoyt.
“I think everybody was focused on what needs to be done next," he said. "When you bite a big job off in little chunks, it gets done pretty efficiently, and we had a lot of people willing to do that.”
Some passengers were treated on scene while others were airlifted to nearby hospitals. In the meantime, Amtrak and Red Cross officials were working to find hotels for the other passengers.
When Holmes asked Hoyt if he had ever trained with the district for such a situation, he said, "Absolutely not."
"This is unprecedented," Hoyt said.
Yet, the event inspired teamwork that has created lasting bonds.
As those involved reflect on the lives lost one year later, they also reflect on the hundreds of lives saved.
“I actually have a couple of people who reached out to me from the train, like a couple of families that messaged me two, three weeks later,” Jessen said. “And I became really good friends with them through it. I kind of keep in touch with them, and definitely this week, I want them to know they are loved. And I hope they’re doing better.”
When considering the overall response on June 27, 2022, Hoyt said the educator in him would grade Mendon's efforts above average.
“An A plus. Absolutely," Hoyt said. "They did a great job. Came out and did the right thing.”