Families reflect on healing after loss of sons in car accident | News

Families reflect on healing after loss of sons in car accident | News

On Feb. 3, three families lost a son and a sibling, when John “Luke” Fergusson, Joshua Mardis and Nicholas Troutman died in a car accident. 

The past few weeks have been difficult — and each of the families struggled to pinpoint exactly what the hardest part has been.

“Certain days are just unbearable,” Anne Fergusson, Luke’s mom, said, “and others are a little better.”

But the three families have banded together to support each other — they’re “forever bound,” as Joshua’s mom, Yvette Mardis, said. They’ve also received support from not only friends and family, but the JMU community as well. 

The Fergussons and Troutmans found out about the accident after police knocked on their doors at 3:30 a.m. the morning of Feb. 3. The Mardis family, in England at the time, said they were in suspense for hours trying to get home.

Yvette said her first thought was, “This can’t possibly be real.”

“That’s the mind at work,” Yvette said. “The news is too terrible to want to believe. So the mind doesn’t want to believe it, and you don’t.”

Joshua’s father, Kirk Mardis, added to his wife’s answer: “I think you think you’re in a nightmare, honestly, and you’re hoping to wake up.”

When Elizabeth “Liza” Fergusson, Luke’s younger sister, found out, she said it was something she never could’ve imagined and the “worst thing ever.”

“It was never something that crossed my mind, that I was gonna lose my brother,” Liza said.


Joshua Mardis with his parents, Yvette and Kirk, and sister Haley during Christmas.

John Troutman, Nicholas’ father, said his son and his friends always took measures to keep everyone safe — “it didn’t make any sense,” he said.

Nicholas would’ve turned 20 years old Feb. 23, and Luke would’ve turned 20 on Feb. 18. Anne said those were “harder days.”

For Jessica Troutman, Nicholas’ mother, there’s no single thing that stands out as the hardest part of it all. It’s “everything,” she said. For Kirk, as others echoed, it’s knowing his son won’t physically be in his life anymore.

“Something beautiful’s been ripped out of your life forever, but you fight against that despair to try to go forward,” Kirk said.

Haley Mardis, Joshua’s sister, said the hardest part has been thinking about her future and all the parts of it that Joshua will miss, and all the things she’ll miss out on because he’s gone. Choking up, she listed several things that have come to mind in the past few weeks.

“Knowing that he’s not gonna be at my wedding and he’s not gonna be a groomsman … Just knowing that I’m an only child, kind of, now,” Haley said. “It’s just weird to think, like, all of these things that he’s supposed to be a part of, like, I don’t get to be an aunt to his kids and I don’t get to give his girlfriend a hard time.”

The Fergussons are coping in different ways, Anne said. She uses humor, like Luke. John Fergusson, Luke’s dad, has gone back to work and copes with a to-do checklist. Liza’s gone back to school, but Anne said she’s basically given up on homework. Liza agreed, saying when everyone else is slacking off in their last semester of high school, she slacks off a bit more and is “just spiraling.”

But each family has leaned on one another. Each set of parents attended all three memorial services on the weekend of Feb. 17-20. The moms and siblings have group text chains together to keep in touch.

Each family is in their own little world, “grieving and tired,” Jessica said. Yvette said they’re all attempting to “come out of the funk and the grief” and back to a “semblance of normal life.” But they still reach out to check in on each other.

This past weekend, Yvette said, Anne texted the other moms to say, “I hope everyone has a good tomorrow.”

“That’s it right now, we hope we have a good tomorrow,” Yvette said. “We hope we get up out of bed tomorrow, you know, and then we have, we can function and have a good day.”

Haley also said she’s been talking with Jack Troutman, Nicholas’ older brother, and Liza. She said it’s been comforting. They’re all only children now: Joshua, Nicholas and Luke were their only siblings.

Yvette said moving forward isn’t something anyone can do alone.

“We’re trying to find comfort and support with each other and trying to remember our boys and find comfort and remember their love,” Yvette said. “And hopefully, one day we’re gonna be more happy than sad having these memories right now. But we get support from each other that way as well because there were three families that lost their children that evening.”


At John “Luke” Fergusson’s memorial service, a table was set up with pictures and other items representing Luke’s life.

Jessica said her family and Fergussons knew each other only a little bit before the accident, as Nicholas and Luke were roommates. Joshua was a new friend to Luke and Nicholas, so the Fergussons and Troutmans didn’t know the Mardises beforehand. But through their grief, she said, they’ve forged a lifelong bond.

“It has been … so supportive and so comforting in a way that you would never wish on anybody else,” Jessica said. “Like, the fact that these two other families are going through this as well is awful, that all three of us are having to go through this, but it’s been so supportive.”

John Fergusson said his family drove with the Troutmans to Joshua’s memorial service in Williamsburg, Virginia, so they were in the car together for a few hours.

Throughout the hardship, all three families said they’ve received overwhelming support — from each other, from their hometowns and from JMU.

John and Anne Fergusson said Hollie Hall, JMU’s dean of students, was a tremendous help keeping them updated on the day of the accident and working with them to bring their son back while crossing state lines from the accident in West Virginia. Jessica said JMU helped with things that hadn’t even crossed her mind. 

“JMU didn’t even blink,” Jessica said.

She got an email the day after the accident, Jessica said, saying their tuition payments had been stopped.

While the Mardises were in the U.K., Yvette and Kirk said they received so much support and help — not just from JMU, friends and family but also from their hotel and airline carrier. 

“Our refrigerators are full, we never have to think about meals, we never have to think about getting things that we need,” Yvette said. “If I need something … my friends are here, and they’re there supporting me and they’re supporting us, and this is the kind of thing you can’t do alone.”

Each family said the vigil held at JMU was helpful to them, and John Fergusson said seeing different colleges light up with JMU colors and the thousands of people who showed up for the vigil meant a lot to them. Anne said she thought it was really helpful for the kids and Luke’s, Joshua’s and Nicholas’ friends. 

Each family has received support from people within their home communities, too. The Troutmans got a letter from Nicholas’ friend from JMU in their mailbox, and Anne said the Fergussons received bags with plastic lights and messages about Luke on them. 

“Just hearing all those [stories] just helps us, you know, it feels really good to hear all those stories and things from his friends,” Jessica said.

Yvette, who works at NASA Langley Research Center, and Kirk, who works at FCN IT, said their places of work have been helpful accommodating them as they grieve and get everything settled. 

With the support of the community, friends and family, each of the families said seeing all of the photos and videos sent in of their sons gives them a great comfort, seeing how their boys were and the men they were becoming.

“Things that have been shared from [Joshua’s] friends and from the JMU community have made us so really, really proud of him and so sorry that, you know, he’s not going to be here to become the wonderful man that he was, he was becoming,” Yvette said.

Although Nicholas was known as a social butterfly, his dad said he often came home to recharge with his family. Jessica also said he was a hard worker who ran a business in the summer and took on jobs in the neighborhood to earn money before going back to school. Nicholas was a business major, but he was still figuring out what to do after college.

“He was different than … when he was in the videos and pictures we’ve seen. He, I think when he came home, he came home to recharge, you know? Slept late, and you know, kind of watch TV with us and stuff like that,” John Troutman said. “Of course he made time for his friends, but he also, you know, never slouched on doing things with us and his brother and his grandparents.”

The Fergussons said their son Luke was just an “easy baby,” that he was kind and funny and cared about his family. John Fergusson said Luke took Liza wherever she wanted to go — like Cookout and Starbucks — whenever he came back from college, and Anne said she’d purposefully take the long way back to JMU for vacations just to hear him speak.

“He would just talk, talk, talk and tell me everything,” Anne said, and he’d eventually notice and ask, “Where are we, and why is this drive taking so long?”

Yvette said Joshua loved JMU, and on the night of the accident, he told her about how much he loved it there and how happy he was.

“Josh was just very resilient and very kind,” Kirk said. “That’s the two things that kind of make his legacy, it was that he never gave up.”

Michael Dye, one of Joshua’s friends from Walsingham Academy, said during his memorial service that Joshua worked very hard to get into JMU and that it was where he wanted to be. Joshua was very proud of being a Duke, Dye said.

“He keeps me going every day,” Dye said. “I know we will keep his memory alive … As he wrote in my senior yearbook, ‘I love you, bro. Friends for life.’”

While they still don’t know exactly how or why the accident happened, the Fergussons, Mardises and Troutmans have found leaning on each other for support means a lot during this time of healing and moving forward.

Jessica said something Rabbi Mordy Leimdorfer said at JMU’s vigil stuck with her:

“You know, we can ask why a million times and … we may never know why … but we can ask the question, ‘What?’” Jessica said. “What can we do to support each other? What can we do to get through this? What can we do to honor Nicholas and Luke and Josh’s memories? Yeah, what can we do to support each other and heal? And so we can’t look back. We can’t change anything, but we can look forward.”

While the families didn’t know each other well before the accident, after losing their sons and brothers, each mom said it’s a bond they wouldn’t wish on any family.

“I think that’ll keep the Fergussons, Troutmans and Mardises together for a while,” Anne said. “We now share this forever.”