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BYU football team, fans support Henderson family after latest tragedy

If ever there was a story that didn’t need a sequel, it’s this one of 9-year-old Austen Russell.

Austen was killed in May 2015 after his father, Troy Russell, accidentally ran over him with his pickup at their Henderson home.

Then, on the morning of Sept. 8, Deedra Russell, Austen’s mom and Troy’s wife, was injured in a wrong-way crash in the Virgin River Gorge in northwest Arizona. Initial reports described her injuries as “life-threatening.”

But her condition has improved. She’s on dialysis and is preparing for arm surgery, and family members are hopeful she can be extubated soon.

She has been able to write messages and communicate by shaking her head “yes” or “no.”

Troy Russell is still at the hospital in St. George, Utah, tending to his wife and trying to take care of the rest of his family.

“Hug your family a little tighter tonight,” he said from the hallway of the hospital.

College visit

The Russell family is well known in Henderson. A Facebook page, In Loving Memory of Austen Russell, has over 4,000 likes and is updated often by Shannon Wolven, a friend of the family. Wolven has been posting updates on Deedra’s condition for the past week.

On Sept. 4, the family was at Allegiant Stadium to watch their beloved Brigham Young University Cougars earn a season-opening football win over Arizona. A few days later, Deedra planned to help her son Kyler move into college for his first year at BYU-Idaho.

A few days later, Kyler drove to a friend’s house to stay the night, with a plan for Deedra to follow and meet him there during the night. But when Kyler woke up in the morning, his mom was nowhere to be seen.

He connected with the rest of his family, and their Life360 app showed that she was somewhere in the Virgin River Gorge. A call to the Arizona Department of Public Safety initially didn’t get Troy Russell any information.

Then, a few minutes later, he got a call back. Deedra had been in an accident, an official told him, but she was in stable condition. Troy, along with the couple’s two daughters, Payton and Maddie, quickly headed to the hospital in St. George.

The injuries were much worse than initially described. Deedra Russell had internal bleeding and kidney failure in addition to a serious arm injury. She’s been on a breathing tube since.

“The whole reason we’re here on Earth is to experience these things we go through,” Troy Russell said. “Love, hurt, betrayal, loss. The only thing we can really control is our agency, our ability to make choices. That’s what life’s about.”

A GoFundMe page has been created for the family.

BYU family

The crash coincided with a huge week for the BYU football team. The Cougars were set to take on Utah, their biggest rival and a thorn in their side for the past decade. The Utes hadn’t lost the matchup since 2009.

The “Holy War,” as the game is known, would also mark the first time since 2019 that BYU had fans in the stadium in Provo.

Collin Russell, 20, a BYU student and the oldest child of Troy and Deedra, already had planned to go to the game Sept. 11 with his girlfriend and her family. A few days before the game, he was in a hospital room in St. George with his mom and dad.

His dad told him to go to the game.

The Russells have been BYU fans for most of their lives, with the exception of Deedra, who grew up a big Utah fan.

When Deedra was applying to colleges, Collin said, she went so far as to apply to every college in Utah — except BYU. Then she met Troy.

“She loved my dad more than she loved Utah,” he said.

So they became a BYU family. Troy posted about Deedra’s situation on Cougar Board, a message board for BYU fans, and his post got hundreds of responses.

“This whole board is weeping with you,” one response read.

Then, the night before the game, Troy got a text message with a few videos, including from BYU coach Kalani Sitake and quarterback Jaren Hall. In the videos, there’s one constant mention: BYU family.

Even though Troy and Deedra didn’t attend BYU, the message — from the players, coaches and fans — is more than clear. Everyone is pulling for them.

The Cougars beat the Utes 26-17. Collin and the rest of the BYU student section stormed the field.

“It just puts it into perspective,” Troy said a few days later. “Did it help? Yeah, but to a small degree.”

Troy followed up the next day, saying, “The more I thought about it, having BYU win did bring some joy to me and so much gratitude that they would reach out to me the night before a big game. Everyone who knows us, knows how big BYU football fans we are. So, so many people reached out to me saying they won this for Deedra and her family.”

Few details on crash

The circumstances around the crash are still unclear. A man was initially arrested after the crash, but it’s unclear what charges, if any, he faces. Troy has been in contact with the man’s family, letting him know that he forgives him.

The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office deferred comment to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which did not respond to a request for information on the man’s status.

Doctors told the family that Deedra is expected make a full recovery, though that might take two years or more. She will have to stay in the Utah hospital for at least two months.

Collin is readying for his Mormon mission later this year and is in Las Vegas with his two sisters. Troy remains in St. George.

No. 3

The family holds an event each year in Austen’s memory, and it’s not uncommon to see people in the Las Vegas area with Austen Russell No. 3 shirts.

That’s because 3 was always Austen’s number in sports.

Since then, Collin always notices when that number pops up. There were three brothers, Austen, Collin and Kyler. Collin’s favorite basketball player is Dwyane Wade, who also wore No. 3.

The hospital building Deedra will be in for the next couple months is next to a building with the No. 3 on the outside.

BYU had a lot of uncertainty coming into this season, needing to replace quarterback Zach Wilson, now a rookie for the New York Jets. In stepped Hall, a sophomore who won the job during training camp. The game against Utah was his first home game as the starter.

He threw for 149 yards and three touchdowns, adding 92 rushing yards.

As the final whistle sounded, bringing Collin and thousands of other fans on the field, Hall celebrated.

On the back of his jersey was No. 3.

Contact Jonah Dylan at jdylan@reviewjournal.com. Follow @TheJonahDylan on Twitter.

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