MASON CITY | The tree at the heart of a fiery crash that killed five young North Iowans early Monday morning was transformed into a shrine by nightfall.
Approximately 150 people flocked to a vigil staged Monday night by one of the victim’s family members, placing balloons, candles and signs at the base of the tree stump.
Police say a Jeep Liberty carrying the victims was going east about 2:30 a.m. when it veered off the 400 block of Sixth Street Southwest, hit the tree and then burst into flames.
All five occupants died at the scene.
Police on Monday did not release the names of the victims, but their names were not a secret among Mason City’s high school students and young adults.
At the vigil, someone wrote the names of five people in black permanent marker on the shorn-off branches of the tree.
Rod. Sydney. Donte. Alex. Zach.
Mourners passed around the marker and took turns writing sayings next to the names:
"Rest Easy. Love Nana."
"Mom and Dad love you."
Travis Wiebke, of Mason City, said the “Alex” written on the tree was his son, Alex Wiebke.
He said Alex, 19, had a huge heart, was a big Green Bay Packers fan and was always looking out for other people.
“He was over 7 feet tall and the reason (and), I told my mom, is because, for someone to have a heart that big, you had to have something to hold it,” Wiebke said after Monday’s vigil. “That’s how he is. He always cared about other people other than himself.”
Word of the crash spread quickly among Mason City teens.
Bree DeFord, 17, knew all five victims.
She’d gone to high school with some and met the others through friends.
“They were all really cool people,” said DeFord, of Mason City. “They were always there for me no matter what.”
Deoshea Foster was one of the first to leave memorials at the stump.
She staked five crosses into the ground. She and a friend tied five balloons that said “You’re So Special” onto the metal stands.
One of the crosses was for her 17-year-old cousin, who she said was killed in the crash.
“And, out of respect for the other families, too, I made sure I got (a cross) for all for them,” said Foster, of Mason City. “It’d have been selfish, you know?”
Authorities plan to release the names of the victims Tuesday morning.
Police Chief Jeff Brinkley said officers were aware that word of the crash and the victims' identities were starting to filter around the community, but the department will wait until Tuesday morning to release names of those involved.
“A couple of families have asked for just a few more hours to reach some additional relatives,” he said.
He declined to speculate on what may have caused the crash, citing the ongoing investigation.
Investigators towed the Jeep away to a secure location.
“We want to make sure that we’ve done our due diligence in evaluating everything before we draw any hard-line conclusions about what happened,” he said.