Crash hits close to home


Ben Wiggins acknowledges that it was a little unconventional that his best friend was a female.

But then again it wasn’t that weird because the best friend was Sunday. She was special.

“My girlfriend raised an eyebrow when I told her my best friend was a girl,” Wiggins said. “I said, ‘wait until you meet her. You’ll get it.’”

Unfortunately that didn’t come to pass. Sunday Stewart Rowan and her husband Matt Rowan were killed along with more than a dozen other passengers in a hot air balloon accident near Lockhart last weekend. Services were held in College Station on Saturday.

“We met in 2010,” Wiggins said of his friend Sunday. “It was like we had known each other all our lives. She was just really sweet and she wanted people to feel comfortable.”

Sunday was an avid reader, an excellent gift-giver and a mother to 5-year-old Jett. She and Matt married in February and had been trying for months to arrange the hot air balloon ride.

Sunday’s mom Janis works in Madisonville for Sonny Knight’s law firm. Her father Matt is a North Zulch High School graduate.

Childhood friends described Sunday as kind and unique.

“She was perpetually cheerful, and I do mean perpetually; as much as is humanly possible, she exuded nonstop joy,” former classmate Mark Huffman wrote. “She loved books. She loved tacos (but who doesn’t?). She loved her family, including Matt, her husband of less than a year, who was also one of the balloon’s passengers, and she loved an enormous number of friends, many mutual, all of whom are grieving terribly … I grieve with many hundreds of others, with their families and for myself, who miss and will continue to miss their presence in our lives. I especially grieve for Sunday's little boy. I don't grieve for them, though. They're not grieving. They'll never grieve again.”

Josh Rowan, Matt’s older brother, said his faith in God has helped him process the grief.

“We’re putting one foot in front of another,” he said. “We’ve got an amazing support network. We have strong Christian beliefs. If you put your trust and faith in Christ, we believe that you will be in a better place. Matt and Sunday were incredible Christian people. One of the things that has helped us is knowing their belief system and knowing that they are in Heaven. The Bible talks about a great crowd of witnesses. As sad as it is, Matt and Sunday are now part of that great crowd of witnesses. As painful as it is, they are cheering us on to get to that finish line. It hurts. I miss my brother. But we’re going to take comfort in knowing they’re in a better place.”

Matt Rowan pointed out that his younger brother was a scientist and would want the facts uncovered – but for now, he just wants to remember his loved ones and celebrate their lives.

“I love my brother, and I’m committed to telling my brother’s story,” Josh said in a phone interview with The Meteor. “Matt was amazing. He was an amazing brother, an amazing son, a great researcher and a great scientist and a great volleyball teammate. Sunday was amazing. She would want to be remembered as a great mother. She will be incredibly missed. I have two small children, and I have to tell you, I think Sunday was one of the best.”

Friends and relatives said they saw social media posts about the hot air balloon ride throughout the day on July 30, and then abruptly the messages stopped.

“We’d seen the chronology of them going to the site, getting on the balloon. We were getting a play by play. Then they were up in the air,” Josh Rowan said. “What we’ve learned from NTSB is that they didn’t know there was a crisis moment. For whatever reason, the balloon struck a power line and it was instantaneous. They didn’t know it was coming. It wasn’t like a plane crashing where you have a sense that this is happening.”

As the news unfolded, friends expressed shock and grief.

“I’ll miss Sunday. I’ll miss her updates about life with Matt and how happy she was, and Facebook messages and texts asking about mine,” said childhood friend Tucker Young. “And my heart is just crushed for her parents, friends and her son. I’m comforted by a belief in God and the knowledge that this is not the end. I know both her and Matt are on the other side and we’ll all see them again one day.”

The family isn’t interested in talking about a lawsuit or directing anger at a potential responsible party.

“My anger against whatever happened is not going to bring anyone back,” Josh Rowan said. “My anger, no matter how righteous it is, is not going to bring my brother back. The best thing I can do is celebrate my brother’s life. Let’s grieve for now and talk about Matt and Sunday.”

Wiggins, who identifies himself as Sunday’s best friend but has also known Matt since they were children, is drawing on his faith for comfort.

“When people comment, repeatedly, to the effect of, ‘I don’t know how you’re doing so well,’ I have to answer loud and clear: It’s not about me. I believe in a power that made a universe. I believe in a God who created all of this, who gave us [Sunday and Matt], and then loved them both so much he wanted them back 60 years early,” Wiggins wrote on a social media page. “I choose to believe that God sent his only son to die for me, and for them and for you. And while I don’t know what the afterlife looks like, that prospect makes me joyous even in the face of shattering tragedy … I will be grateful for the time with them. I will be humbled by the legacies of love and laughter that they left behind. I will swap stories and catchphrases and smiles with everyone who loved them as thoroughly and fiercely and unendingly as I did. Last but not least: I will rejoice and be glad. For this is the day that the Lord has made.”