It was a gift from their church: An all-expenses-paid weekend trip to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to bless and strengthen the young Medford couple’s marriage before the birth of their son.
Friday and Saturday were days of work, with Alanna and Michael DeMella attending a Christian marriage conference, and Sunday was meant to be a day of rest. The couple planned to soak up the sun for one day before flying home.
Less than two hours after the couple checked into a ritzy hotel along Fort Lauderdale’s Las Olas Boulevard, an out-of-control car plowed into a poolside cabana and killed Alanna DeMella, who was seven months pregnant, and her unborn son.
Michael DeMella survived with scrapes, bruises - and an ocean of grief.
“He’s a mess. He’s a wreck. He’s going through all sorts of emotions of ‘God, how can you allow something like this to happen?’ ’’ said Michael Davis, lead pastor of the Genesis Community, the Woburn church the couple attended. “He flew to Fort Lauderdale for a marriage conference with his wife and unborn son and is flying home alone.’’
At the couple’s home, a room was ready, a baby shower held. “This was a child,’’ Davis said, “they were both really excited about and looking forward to.’’ Now, the pastor said, Davis is “coming home to an empty house.’’
Alanna DeMella, a special education teaching assistant at an Arlington elementary school, and her husband were staying at the Riverside Hotel, which sits on a street lined with palm trees, art galleries, and boutiques. Just behind the hotel is the pool, where police said both were using the restroom and changing area in the cabana about 1:25 p.m. Sunday.
Just then, police said, a silver Audi driven by Rosa Rivera Kim of Plantation, Fla., jumped the curb, crossed a sidewalk, and crashed through the side of the cabana, pinning the pregnant woman inside. Alanna DeMella, 26, was pronounced dead at the scene, while her husband was taken to Broward General Medical Center, where he was treated and released.
“This is a horrific tragedy; there’s no other way to describe it,’’ said Fort Lauderdale police Detective Travis Mandell.
The cause of the crash, which has garnered international attention, remains under investigation, and charges have yet to be filed, Mandell said by phone Monday. Kim, 34, who suffered injuries that were not life-threatening, was also taken to Broward General, where she remained Monday in stable condition.
“We are working tirelessly to determine how this happened and why this happened,’’ Mandell said. Toxicology tests will be conducted as part of the investigation.
DeMella’s friends, family, and co-workers are struggling to make sense of the loss of the woman who described herself on Twitter as a “wife, teacher, follower of Jesus . . . on an exciting journey.’’ Her sister answered the phone Monday, saying their family was too distraught to talk.
Social workers and psychologists at Peirce School, where DeMella worked, spoke with students Monday “to assure them they are safe and supported,’’ principal Karen Hartley wrote in a letter to parents.
And a post on the Facebook page of the couple’s Woburn church, which they attended for about a year, said, “Hearts are heavy within the Genesis Community today. Her death affects us all, because we are one body.’’
‘This is a horrific tragedy; there’s no other way to describe it.’Travis Mandell, detective, Fort Lauderdale police
The church’s pastor wants people to know about the life DeMella led, not just the circumstances that took her life.
“Most people when they think of Alanna, they think of a really caring, genuine, compassionate, sincere, and really joyful person,’’ Davis said.
He plans to give his congregation a space to grieve, share, support, and pray with one another during a Wednesday night prayer service. “There are a lot of people, including Michael right now, asking all sorts of questions,’’ Davis said. “There are no canned responses. There is no quick answer.’’
In this moment, a Bible verse that says “weep with those who weep’’ rings true. “He,’’ Davis said of Michael DeMella, 31, “has a whole community of men and women who are weeping along with him.’’Akilah Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.