ST. PAUL-When Eric Buck drove past the scene of a multi-vehicle crash on Interstate 380 near Waterloo, Iowa, last month, he asked his children to pray for the people involved.
The St. Paul man and three of his six children were headed home from Iowa during a snowstorm on Dec. 29 when they saw a dozen cars "totaled in a pileup" and witnessed first responders cutting open a car that had been struck by a semitrailer truck.
"There was a semi ... and there was a car in front of it that was obviously crushed, smashed," said Buck, outreach director of Mounds Park United Methodist Church.
"I could tell that they were cutting the car to get the people out, and I told (the kids) to pray for that family," he said. "I said, 'That is something really, really serious. Pray for that family. They really need it.'"
It turns out the family they were praying for was their own.
Due to a problem with the family's van on the morning of Dec. 26, Eric and Amy Buck took two cars to visit family in Bettendorf, Iowa. On their way home three days later, Eric Buck, 54, drove son Caleb and daughters, Subashri and Tanushri, in the family's Ford Focus; son Ian Buck, 25, of St. Paul, drove his mother and brothers Jonas and Marshal in the family's silver 2003 Toyota Camry.
About 12:25 p.m., in Evansdale, Iowa, a 2018 Freightliner driven by John Baus, of Milwaukee, who was hauling a Sam's Club trailer, smashed into the rear of the Camry.
Marshal, 14, a sixth-grader at Open World Learning Community School, was critically injured and flown to the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City, where he remains in the intensive-care unit being treated for a traumatic brain injury.
"It's hour by hour," Amy Buck, 53, said during a phone interview from the hospital on Tuesday. "We won't know the extent of anything for a while."
But she reported that Marshal spoke on Monday morning for the first time since the crash.
"I was wiping his mouth, and all of a sudden he said, 'Thank you,'" said Amy Buck, the adolescent parent and child care nurse at Harding Senior High School and lead nurse at AGAPE High School in St. Paul. "And I was, like, 'Oh, my God! He talked!'"
Then, Marshal said he wanted a soda - an orange Fanta, to be specific.
"And then he said, 'I want a hug,' and I gave him a hug and then he said, 'I love you, Mommy,'" she said.
Amy Buck, who suffered a concussion, broken rib and a head injury, was released last week from Covenant Hospital in Waterloo.
Jonas, 20, a student at Hamline University and a graduate of Highland Park High School, is undergoing rehabilitation at Covenant Hospital for a serious leg and arm injury.
Ian Buck was treated at UnityPoint Health-Allen Hospital in Waterloo and has been released. He teaches computer tech at Harding Senior High School, is the school's assistant adviser for Robotics Club, oversees the school's after-school gaming club and serves as the school's webcaster.
Their brother Caleb, 22, attends Century College in White Bear Lake.
Black Hawk County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Mark Herbst said it was a miracle that anyone in the back seat of the Camry survived the crash.
"We're hoping and praying for them," Herbst said Tuesday. "It's surprising, given the trauma that that car went through, that they were able to survive it. It was a horrible one."
As they were driving home on Dec. 29, the Bucks arranged to rendezvous for lunch in Waterloo. Eric Buck pulled off at the exit just past the crash site and went to a Subway.
"We had ordered and eaten lunch, and we were playing a game," he said. "We were there for about an hour, waiting for them. We just figured they must be pulling semis out of the ditch, so they've got the traffic stopped, and nobody can get through."
Then, Eric Buck's cellphone rang.
Amy Buck said she regained consciousness in the ambulance and was able to tell EMTs to call her husband. His cellphone, which had not been working in Iowa due to a lack of cellular service, miraculously worked, she said.
"He had not had service the whole trip, but he got the call," she said.
Another miracle: the car that was struck was the Toyota Camry that the Bucks had purchased from a neighbor down the block a month ago.
"That car saved our lives," Amy Buck said. "I really want to write (Toyota) a letter and thank them. Our other car is smaller, and I don't think we would have made it."
Since the crash, the St. Paul community has rallied around the family - raising money through a GoFundMe account, providing meals and taking care of their pets, including a bearded dragon named Critter, the Bucks said.
Longtime family friend Gigi Decker said the Bucks have "helped a ton of people and organized a ton of things" on St. Paul's East Side.
"They're well connected," she said. "They're very community oriented. They've done so much for so many people."
Decker is helping organize a fundraising breakfast, bake sale and craft sale to help the family from 9 to 11 a.m. Feb. 3 at Mounds Park United Methodist Church.
"We want them just to focus on healing and everything else that needs to get done," she said.
In addition, friends and family are asking people to light candles and send out a "prayer blast" for the Bucks at 11:30 a.m. Sunday.
"As much as you can bomb people with angels and love, we're going to do that," she said.
Pictures of people toasting Marshal with orange Fanta and lighting candles for him are also being shared on a private "Prayer Warrior Team" Facebook site.
People all over the world are praying for Marshal, who was adopted from India in May 2016, according to the Bucks.
"God put it on my heart when I went there in 1988 for five months," Amy Buck said. "Eric proposed to me right before I left. You know, you come home, you get married, you start a family. But God didn't let go of it."
When Jonas, the youngest of their three oldest sons was 5, Eric "pulled all the baby stuff out to bring it to the church rummage sale," Amy Buck said. "I said, 'What are you doing? ... You can't do that. You'll get rid of my dream.'"
Within a month, the Bucks had contacted Children’s Home Society and begun adoption proceedings for Tanushri, who is now 15 and a ninth-grader at Open World Learning Community School. They then adopted Subashri, who is 14 and an eighth-grader at OWL.
In 2015, the Bucks learned about Marshal, who was living in an orphanage in Kerala, India.
“There had been several years of tugging at my heart again,” Amy Buck said. “It seemed like India was closed to us, and we were thinking about China or foster care or this or that, and none of it felt right.”
A friend who was traveling in India told them about Marshal, who had been living in the orphanage much longer than other children, Amy Buck said.
“I think Marshal got forgotten, to be honest,” she said.
The director of the orphanage took Marshal to the Shrine of St. Alphonsa “to pray that he would get a family” about a month before the Bucks decided to adopt him, Amy Buck said.
The orphanage asked the Bucks to recite Psalm 91 to Marshal every night before he went to bed; Marshal had memorized the Bible verse in his native language of Malayalam.
It begins with these verses: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ ”
“No matter what is going on out there, God is with you, God is protecting you,” Eric Buck said. “Wherever you go, however rough life is, whatever is going on, God is with you, and so we read that one to him because that’s a verse from home.”
The director of the orphanage has been back at the shrine to pray for Marshal since the crash and has arranged for oils and a medallion blessed at the shrine to be brought to Minnesota, Amy Buck said.
“When I told the orphanage director yesterday that he had started to talk, she said: ‘Praise the Lord. I knew that God would not take the little boy who had waited the longest ever at this orphanage to get adopted,’ ” Amy Buck said. “She said she knew that he was here for a purpose, that He wasn’t going to take him yet, that there is some kind of purpose for him to be here.
“We don’t know what it is yet, but there is.”