Minn. Man Recalls Haiti Quake That Killed Cousin

By Liz Collin, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Wednesday will mark one year since the earth shook in Haiti. More than a quarter of a million people lost their lives that day. One of the victims was a young Minnesota man studying to be a pastor.

Ben Larson’s cousin, Jonathan Larson, was just feet from Ben when he died in the earthquake. He talked to WCCO-TV about what he remembers from that day and why he knows he’ll be back to Haiti.

Music and ministry filled Ben’s life and family was his foundation.

Ben and Jonathan were close cousins, born just two months apart.

“We were best friends our whole lives,” Jonathan said.

Both were fourth year seminary students from Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa certified for ordination. So, was Ben’s wife, Renee.

The three left Jan. 4 of last year for a mission trip to Haiti, helping to get a Lutheran church off the ground.

“Each day has memories attached to it,” Jonathan said.

Nightfall on Jan. 12 will always be the memory that changed everything.

“It was violent shaking. We didn’t know what was happening initially,” he said.

The three were inside an orphanage near Port a Prince, standing close together. Jonathan would cling to a cross on the building as the shaking continued, until he saw Renee.

“We found each other in the darkness, in the dust,” he said.

Of the 20 people inside, everyone got out, except Ben. He’d been buried in the rubble. They could hear him, singing before he would forever be silent.

Searchers would find his Ben’s body two weeks later.

“As we wake in the morning, we remember Haiti. That will be something we always awake with,” Jonathan said.

Jonathan is now leading a youth group in Duluth, in the same city Ben’s parents are pastors.

He admits it’s been hard to watch Haiti struggle in the last year, a hurricane that brought widespread flood waters and a cholera outbreak that’s killed thousands.

“If they have faith that continues in the wake of such devastation, we can too,” Jonathan said.

It’s why he knows he’ll be back to rebuild. He’s sure it’s what Ben would want him to do after a powerful moment that still wasn’t strong enough to shake a family’s faith.

Ben was 25 years old. His widow, Renee, is a pastor of a Lutheran Church in North Dakota. On Wednesday, the anniversary of the earthquake, Ben’s family will all gather at this grave at 3:53 p.m., the time the quake hit. They’ll be singing the same song Ben sang before he died.

To know more about helping Haiti rebuild and the organization the Larson family is supporting in the effort click here.

WCCO-TV’s Liz Collin Reports

More from Liz Collin
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  • Jesse

    Ben sounded like a great guy. We definately need more people like him! He will forever be missed. My prayers continue to go out to his family.

  • momoffourinbuffalo

    what was he singing. i would like to know

  • Mytch D

    You will always be remembered Ben. A part of you is in Haiti

  • Katie

    momoffourinbuffalo – the following excerpt was in a Feb. 8 MPR story. The quotes are from Renee.

    “I stuck my head in the hole, and I heard Ben,” she said. “He was singing.”

    The tune was from the hymn, “Where Love and Charity Prevail,” but Renee is pretty sure he was making up the words.

    Renee yelled for him: She and Jon were OK. She loved him. And keep singing!

    She heard Ben sing “God’s peace to us we pray.” Then the singing stopped

  • Rita

    I knew Ben as a little boy when his parents were pastors at my church. Ben grew into an exceptional and caring young man. Thoughts and prayers to family and friends of Ben.

  • Renee Splichal Larson

    These are the last words sung by Ben from underneath the rubble of the Haiti earthquake:

    “O Lamb of God, you bear the sin of all the world away; eternal peace with God you made, God’s peace to us we pray.”

  • Cindy

    Blessed be his memory. When Ben was five, he and my son were friends……..playmates. My heart is heavy, as it has been since the earthquake when I think of his wife, family, and friends and the grief they must still be bearing. May they continue to be comforted by a loving God, knowing they will be reunited with Ben.

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