For the last six months, the Castle Marching Knights prepared to be on this stage.
They took the field at BOA national competition on Friday, Nov. 11 and scored third in the nation in their class for their school size. They would go on to compete against bands of all sizes as one of the top bands in the nation.
The Knights, 272 skilled and determined students, left everything they had on the field in their performance. Sophie Rinehart’s celestial voice moved spectators who traveled from states across the nation to see the artistry of high school marching bands.
The Knights took 10th in the competition for the national title among bands from Indianapolis, Texas, Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois and Florida.
The awards ceremony ended late Saturday night and Sophie’s family — her father David, her grandmother Ruth Ann and her older sister Josie — left to return home.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, their car hit a deer as David was driving the family home on Interstate 69. He pulled the car to the side of the road before calling in the incident to police.
According to the police report, when Indiana State Police Trooper Cory Knight arrived on the scene, he found a mass of debris in the roadway, a passenger car and an inverted pickup truck near an embankment. The investigation revealed that David had pulled to the side of the road after the incident with the deer, but some time afterward, a pickup truck driven by Mason Hartky, 19, of Jasper, left the roadway for unknown reasons and struck their parked car.
Sophie, David and Ruth were lost in the wreck.
Just hours after an inspiring performance, tragedy struck the Rinehart family, their church family and the Castle family.
Members of the community in Newburgh, the state and the entire nation have lent their grief at the loss of a beautiful voice that affected so many. Band students from across the nation have expressed their condolences on social media with the tags #singforsophie and #weareallcastle.
Sara Bareilles learned of the tragedy and tweeted: “Tragic loss of a young girl, her father, and her grandma last night in a car accident. I’m so sorry for the loss. Absolutely heartbreaking.”
Band Director Tom Dean said it would be impossible to express the full range of emotions felt by Castle Bands. He said the outpouring of support is remarkable.
“It is impossible for me to personally respond and thank everyone who has sent messages, videos, cards, emails and gifts,” he said in a statement posted to Facebook. “Please know that I have read every message and my heart is absolutely filled again overflowing with your love. Tears of grief and heartache are replaced with tears of thankfullness and love.”
In his post, Dean spoke of the last time he spent with Sophie. After the semifinal performance that qualified the band for national competition, Dean was asked to do a video interview about the Castle Marching Knights and was asked to bring along a student for the interview. He asked Sophie to accompany him.
“What I didn’t know at the time was that Sophie and I would get to share some time together for the last time,” he wrote.
Dean wrote that their conversation on the way back from the interview fell onto the topic of the origins and inspiration for this year’s show, A Siren’s Song.
In the show, Sophie not only lends her talents on flute but also as a vocal soloist. Dean told Sophie that the show was inspired by her performance in her middle school talent show.
“I told her that I heard her sing at the middle school talent show and I was completely amazed at her maturity and passion,” he wrote.
Dean wrote that Sophie responded by saying she almost didn’t participate in the talent show, but was convinced by friends at the last minute.
“I told Sophie, ‘Imagine that if you hadn’t done that years ago, none of what happened today would have been possible. This whole show was inspired by that recording. It’s crazy to think about how one small decision changes everything.’”
Dean wrote that the two smiled and laughed about the way God works while one the way back to the buses.
“I am a better person today because of her and the influence of three generations of the Rinehart family I have known,” Dean wrote. “[Sophie] moved thousands to tears and her life’s work in music ministry will continue to live on and touch more people than she could have ever imagined.”
Sophie was also very active in ministries at Crossroads Christian Church where her father, David, was the Worship Arts Academy Director.
“There are no words to describe the pain and shock we all feel. This is one of those moments in life that is extremely difficult to understand,” Pastor Patrick Garcia said in a statement. “We can take comfort knowing that David, Sophie and Ruth Ann are currently experiencing the joy of Jesus’ presence for eternity.”
The Warrick County School Corporation has dispatched their crisis team to assist those in need at Castle High School this week and others touched in nearby schools. The team seeks to provide support and direction in times of tragedy.
“This is obviously a terrible tragedy,” Superintendent Brad Schneider said. “We want to be with our students and staff as they go through the grieving process. Academics are not a top priority today. Our priority is helping kids cope.”
Those interested in helping the Rinehart family through this crisis can donate to the David Gary Rinehart Fund by mailing a check to 2411 Sarasota Drive, Evansville, Ind. 47715.
Funeral services will be held Thursday, Nov. 17 at 11 a.m. at Crossroads Christian Church in Newburgh. A private burial will follow in Oak Hill Cemetery. Friends may call Wednesday from 2 to 8 p.m. and Thursday from 10 a.m. until service time at Alexander Funeral Home-East Chapel in Evansville.
Cards, notes or other condolences can be mailed to the chapel at 2115 Lincoln Avenue, Evansville, Ind. 47714 Attn. Sophie Rinehart Family.
Donations can also be made to the Castle Band program in memory of Sophie. Checks can be made payable to Castle Band Boosters, Inc and mailed to P.O. Box 641, Newburgh, Ind. 47269.