As Rebekah and Austin Wesson left the courthouse in Wichita, Kansas, on Friday, the 19-year-old newlyweds could not stop smiling.
“I’m Mrs. Wesson,” Rebekah Wesson said, brandishing her newly christened name, her mother later recounted.
Austin Wesson grabbed her around the waist and pulled her close.
“You are my wife,” he told her. “You are my wife.”
On Saturday, what would have been their first full day as a married couple, the young couple planned a dinner together. Rebekah Wesson bought the ingredients for a pork chop recipe she hoped to cook for her new husband, a meal they would never get the chance to eat.
They had also registered for their wedding reception, which was set for late September. They would exchange their vows again in a religious ceremony among the trees in the backyard of the bride’s parents, and would serve their guests pizza, Rebekah Wesson’s mother, Rachel Bouma, told the Washington Post. They would have a campfire where their family and friends could make s’mores.
Rebekah Wesson had already purchased her wedding dress – an A-line dress with a tulle skirt and beaded, laced top.
But the celebratory dinner, and the backyard wedding, would never be.
On Saturday, the day after becoming husband and wife, the Wessons crashed into a tree after the pickup truck they were riding in went off a dirt road. Austin Wesson, the driver, died at the scene, the Wichita Eagle reported. Rebekah Wesson died in a Wichita hospital early Monday.
Authorities say the cause of the crash is still under investigation.
Rachel Bouma was at a wedding reception for another young couple when she saw a missed call from her daughter’s cellphone. She called the number back and heard a man’s voice, identifying himself as a sheriff’s deputy.
“I honestly thought Austin was just playing a joke on me, because he could tease,” Bouma said. Then, the deputy told her there had been an vehicle crash, her daughter was at the hospital.
The crash happened several hundred yards from the Boumas’ home near Clearwater, Kansas.
Early Monday morning, Bouma posted a message to Facebook:
“It is with an unbearably shattered heart that we inform you that our darling daughter, Rebekah Christina, went peacefully into the arms of her loving Savior. . . She is with the Lord that she loved so deeply and so joyfully and she is with her husband of just one day, Austin Wesson, whom she loved with all her heart. We thank God that they are together while grieving their loss so very deeply. Please keep both our families in your prayers and especially that Austin’s family would be able to be here quickly.”
Instead of preparing for a wedding, the young couple’s families are now preparing for a joint funeral next week.
Austin Wesson’s family members, who live in South Africa, will be flying to Kansas later this week. It will be their first time meeting their son’s in-laws.
Rebekah Wesson’s sisters, who planned to be her bridesmaids, will be wearing their smoky blue bridesmaids skirts to the funeral. She had two sisters and two brothers.
“Our hearts were just broken,” John Bouma, Rebekah Wesson’s father, told the Post.
The lives of “these two beautiful young people, he said, “were cut short.” But, he said, “obviously it was in God’s plan to take them home to heaven.”
John Bouma recalled the couple’s fleeting, but promising romance, a relationship that spanned continents.
His daughter met Austin Wesson, a native of the Cape Town area of South Africa, in February during a gap year program called World Race. Participants in the Christian program spend nine months in three different continents, doing mission work at each location.
While serving at a school in South Africa, Rebekah met Austin Wesson, who was on a different mission trip. “They really hit it off right away,” John Bouma said.
After Rebekah’s three months in South Africa, she kept in touch with Austin Wesson through a video calling app.
And it was over one call in April that Austin Wesson asked to speak with Rebekah’s father. He asked John Bouma for permission to date his daughter, “which I thought was quite something,” the father said.
“He was very respectful, just a sweet, polite and engaging young man,” John Bouma said.
In June, Austin Wesson received an exchange-student visa that allowed him to come to the U.S. That same month, he asked the Boumas for their daughter’s hand in marriage.
Despite their young age, the parents could tell “they were very serious about each other.” They said yes, and Austin Wesson proposed the next day.
In the short time the parents saw the couple together, they enjoyed witnessing “how sweet their love for each other was,” Rachel Bouma said.
“It was very tangible,” she said. “You could not see them and not know. They just lit up a room.”
The mother looked back on one morning, when Austin and Rebekah – or “Bekah,” as the family called her – were making breakfast. The song, “Hey There Delilah” came on the radio, and the two of them began dancing through the kitchen. Rebekah laughed as Austin twirled her around. Her mother filmed the moment, unbeknown to the couple.
The mother recalled how hours before Saturday’s fatal car crash, her new son-in-law laughed talking about their wedding registry, a concept not common in South Africa.
“Mom, you gotta help because we don’t know what we’re doing,” he told Rachel Bouma, she recounted. “There’s just so much.”
After getting married, the couple planned to move to Michigan for college. They would then continue to travel and do mission work together, John Bouma said.
“They had a very strong faith in God and wanted to serve Jesus, be the hands and feet of Jesus, ministering to other people,” he said.