Jason Rittermeyer imparted to his children the traditional beliefs of hard work, love of country and strong Christian values, neighbors and friends recalled Friday.
The children attended a private Christian school, and Rittermeyer’s sons were active in Scouting. For the past six months, the family had been integrating into a small Baptist church about 20 miles from the family’s Cass County home in Archie.
On Thursday evening, Rittermeyer, 32, his girlfriend, Aleah Lucas, 22, of Olathe, and three of his four children had gone out to buy fireworks when they died in a two-vehicle collision just east of Archie.
Authorities identified them as 8-year-old Anna Rittermeyer, 10-year-old Noah Rittermeyer and 9-year-old Sage Rittermeyer. Their 15-year-old brother did not accompany them.
The family was headed west with Jason Rittermeyer driving. After his 13-year-old Hyundai Elantra ran off the right side of the road, he overcorrected, and the car skidded sideways across Missouri Route B — right into the path of an eastbound 2007 Dodge Ram driven by a 52-year-old Archie man, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol.
The vehicles collided near Cantrell Road about 5:30 p.m. Lucas and Sage, who were not wearing seatbelts, were ejected. All five victims died at the scene. The other driver sustained minor injuries, according to the Highway Patrol.
The Rittermeyers relocated seven years ago from Blue Mound, Kan., to a two-story, 100-year-old farmhouse. They owned horses and cows and often were seen riding three-wheel, all-terrain vehicles.
Relatives, friends and neighbors said Friday they were struggling to cope with the tragedy. They’ve pledged to rally around the surviving sibling, who was staying with his mother and other relatives on Friday. No funeral arrangements had been made.
“We are having a terrible time accepting it, but a part of life is death and this is very difficult,” said Jennie Whiteside, a Boy Scout leader who knew the family.
Their pastor, the Rev. Malachi O’Brien, said the family recently had become active in the church. They began attending services after accepting an invitation from a neighbor. The youngest child, Anna, had just started attending junior church with the other children in the congregation, O’Brien said.
Their death is a tragic loss to the church family, he said.
“You could tell they were a real solid family and just happy to be with each other and loved to be at church,” O’Brien said. “They were outgoing; they just seemed to love life and love being there. This is heartbreaking.”
O’Brien said he would encourage the surviving son to seek comfort in God’s love.
“There is no answer to human tragedy and suffering,” he said. “God is good, he doesn’t make any mistakes and there are a lot of people praying for you.”
Whiteside said Jason Rittermeyer was an active Scout parent and recently had attended an annual, 10-day Scouting event at the H. Roe Bartle Scout Camp.
She said Noah was always eager to learn new things and wanted to do all of the big Boy Scout things.
“Jason wanted his boys to be raised right,” Whiteside said. “Scouting is pretty much a full-time thing if you want to do it right, and they did it right.”
Lucas’ relatives described her as outgoing, engaging and always looking to help others. She had moved in with the Rittermeyers and helped care for the children, whose parents divorced in 2012.
“She was always smiling, always funny and always carefree,” said her brother, Garrett Lewis. “She just wanted to make other people happy before herself. She would cheer you up; she would make you laugh if you were down.
“She would be the life of the party.”
Lucas loved riding horses and listening to country music. The rural setting in Archie seemed ideal for her, Lewis said.
Lucas was raised in Olathe and graduated from high school in 2009. The Rittermeyer children adored Lucas, O’Brien said.
“Aleah seemed to be the light of his (Jason’s) life,” he said. “She brought life and vitality to the family.”