The small bus operated by the Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranches, whose mission is "to provide Christian, family-style residential homes for Alabama's needy, neglected, or abused, school-age children,” was in a pileup of more than a dozen cars on Interstate 65.
Four of the children who perished from the crash were girls who lived at the ranch, and the other four children who died were related to someone who worked at the ranch, according to AL.com.
“I’ll tell you what I do know, those children are in a much better place, they’re with God, cause they all love God,” Michael Smith, the CEO of the Alabama Sheriff’s Youth Ranch, told the NBC affiliate WSFA.
Smith, who spent time with the girls who attended his organization's Tallapoosa County ranch, said he “felt like the blessed one” being able to know them.
Located in Camp Hill, Alabama, the Tallapoosa County Sheriffs Youth Ranch houses high schoolers in crisis.
The ranch there has three homes for girls, three staff houses, an office, a chapel, gym and pool, according to the website.
Opened by the Alabama Sheriffs' Association in 1973, it was meant to provide children with stability as they navigate high school.