Local teen dies "car surfing"
MASSAC COUNTY, Ill. — A smiling teen in pigtails, standing in a cornfield: the photograph was snapped just a few days ago but already it is Rita Gower's favorite.
"That's what she looked like the last time I saw her, so that might be why it means so much to me," she said.
The young girl in the picture is 14-year-old Caellagh Eiler, a young lady Gower treated as a granddaughter.
"Her mother called and told me that she'd been in an accident and they were on the way to Evansville," she recalled of the moment her heart sank Sunday afternoon.
One day and hundreds of prayers later, the young girl was gone.
"We knew we were praying for a miracle because there was no brain activity when she got to Evansville."
Gower said she immediately called Ryan Anderson, Eiler's youth pastor at Eastland Baptist Church.
"Caellagh was on this journey. We loved her so much," he said of ministering to her over the past several years. "She was so spunky and it was part of her personality to try anything and bless her heart, that's what took her."
Eiler was with her younger sister and four friends Sunday afternoon. The group initially told investigators they had been hiking at Dixon Springs, when Eiler fell.
But later, investigators with the Pope County Sheriff's office learned the group was "car surfing" on county roads when Eiler was thrown off the car.
The investigation is in the hands of the Illinois State Police and while they are keeping quiet, the Pope County Sheriff said charges could be filed against the teens involved.
It was an accident Rita Gower will never understand or come to terms with.
"I don't know if there will be acceptance. I'm still angry because it could have been avoided."
Caellagh Eiler was a freshman at Massac County High School. While she had only been there a few weeks, she had already joined the Drama Club and last week and had recently picked up forms to run for student council.
The Eiler family did not have insurance, so those looking to help the family can do so by making donations to the Caellagh Eiler Funeral Fund, City National Bank, 423 Ferry St., Metropolis, Illinois, 62960.
Visitation will be held Friday, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Saturday. Both are being handled by Aikins-Farmer Funeral Home, Metropolis.