Losing Jeremy

Post a Comment » Written on August 13th, 2007     
Filed under: News
JeremyBy Stan Friedman

LAFAYETTE, IN (August 13) – In December 1998, a late-night automobile accident took the life of Jeremy Doyle, a high school senior from the Evangelical Covenant Church of Lafayette, Indiana. His family and community poured out tears. But before too long, his death would begin to transforms lives—first at home and later in a small village in Haiti. Earlier this year, Stan Friedman traveled to Lafayette to talk with Jeremy’s family and church about his death and how they found new life in the nine years since.  

This is the first of a four part series.

Jeremy Doyle had it all. At six-foot five, he was an All-State defensive at McCutcheon High School and had dreams of playing Division I football, fueled by the college coaches calling to recruit him. He was the starting center on the school’s basketball team. Beloved by his classmates for his goofy sense of humor, and respected for his Christian beliefs, he had been named homecoming king. It seems like everyone knew and loved Jeremy.

Shortly before midnight on December 11, 1998, Jeremy left Pizza King, where he had stopped with friends following a basketball game. Less than a mile down the road, a pickup truck, driven by a teenager who had fallen asleep at the wheel, crossed the center line of County Road 350 S. and slammed head-on into Jeremy’s 1989 Honda Accord.

A little while later, Sandy and Richard Doyle, Jeremy’s parents, heard a knock on their front door. When they opened it, they found the chief of the Lafayette Fire Department standing there. A colleague of Richards’s, he told them that their son had been seriously injured and was at the hospital.

When they arrived at the hospital, Sandy saw what seemed like a hopeful sign. There was no equipment hooked up to her son as he lay on the steel table in the emergency room. Then she heard her husband, who had been talking with a crying sheriff’s deputy, begin to scream. Their son was gone.

As news of Jeremy’s death quickly spread through the community, calls from students flooded the local radio station with special requests in his honor. Although the radio station normally didn’t take requests, the disc jockey played them through the night.

Preparations began quickly for the funeral.  “We knew the viewing and the funeral would be huge, but we had not idea how huge,” recalls John Martz, who was the Doyle’s pastor at the time.


Three thousand people attended Jeremy’s viewing. Among them was the driver of the truck that killed Jeremy. The boy was just a year older than Jeremy, and they had attended the same school. His father called Martz with a request: would the Doyle’s allow his son to come pay his respects before the crowds arrived.’

Recalling that moment, when this young man met Jeremy’s parents, still brings tears to Martz’s eyes. Martz was standing in the church sanctuary with Sandy and making preparations for the viewing when the young driver walked in.

“This great big young man who must have been six feet, five inches tall, was standing in the doorway,” he says. “Sandy made a beeline straight for him. His shoulders rounded and his head went down. He was really frightened of what she might say or what she was going to do.”

What she did surprised even Martz. She cupped the boy’s face in her hands, and told him, “We want you to know that we love you, and Jeremy would be upset if he knew you were carrying this awful burden forward.”

“She gave this young man his life back with those words,” Martz recalls. “I rarely have seen grace so manifested.”

Sandy says she realized that this boy and his family had suffered terribly as a result of the accident. “I think it was more overwhelming for them than it was for us in some respects,” she says. “I just feel like God lifted any harboring of ill feeling. I never felt like seeking revenge.”


Both city high schools released their students to attend the funeral, which was the largest ever in Tippecanoe County, officials later said. Six hundred people crammed into the church sanctuary. Across the parking lot, roughly 800 attendees packed the church’s Family Life Center. They watched the service on closed-circuit television the church had rushed to install with the help of Purdue University.

“The sea of kids was phenomenal,” Sandy says. Some were athletes from across Indiana who had played against Matt and wanted to say goodbye. Uniformed police and firefighters lined the walls of the sanctuary.

Following Martz’s sermon, youth pastor Jon Black delivered a eulogy. At the Doyles’ request, he asked people to consider their own relationship with Jesus. He followed by asking everyone to close their eyes and raise their hands if they wanted to renew or begin that relationship with Jesus Christ. Across the sanctuary and in the gym, the arms of more than 300 people went up. Youth pastors who had been invited from local churches counseled some of the students.

“We knew right then that God was moving,” says Richard.

After the service, Jeremy’s body was taken to the cemetery, followed by a funeral procession that stretched 10 miles. The last car arrived at the cemetery an hour after the first vehicle.

A month later, the Doyles worked with the church to sponsor a “Fifth Quarter” at Jeremy’s high school. Jeremy Camp, now one of the country’s top Christian recording artists, gave his testimony at the end of the evening. Camp had not yet released his first album, but was a well-known former McCutcheon High School student and the son of a local pastor.

When Camp asked people to pray with him if they wanted to receive Christ, 150 responded.

“I was standing right behind Jeremy, and I thought he was being really bold,” Black recalls. At the end of the night each student received a New Testament that included Jeremy Doyle’s personal testimony of faith in Jesus Christ.


The Doyles wanted to make sure the students continued to be discipled, so they held a Sunday night Bible study in their home for three years, with attendance that ranged between 25 and 50 people.

“For years afterward, we would get families who visited the church because they had been at the funeral,” Martz says. “Kids went home to their parents and told them, ‘We don’t go to church, but we have to get this faith thing figured out.’”

Over the years, the church began to grow one family at a time, going from 650 to more than 1,000, Many of those families first visited the church at Jeremy’s funeral. The church has had to double the size of the Life Center. The expansion included a coffee café named the “Huddle,” because it was a football term symbolic of coming together.

Richard remembers standing outside the building during construction and Martz asking him, “You do know this is all because of Jeremy?”

At first, Richard didn’t understand. Then Martz started naming families who had come to the church because of Jeremy. “You don’t realize what is happening at the time,” Richard says.

Four-part series

“Losing Jeremy‘That Was God Preparing Us for the Girls’”

“Lafayette Church ‘Adopts’ Village”

“Lives intersect after tragedy”

People still frequently approach the Doyles to tell them how their lives were changed at the funeral or Fifth Quarter. Earlier this year at a men’s retreat, one attendee told Richard that his life had turned around at the funeral.

Jeremy was killed less than half a mile from church, and every Sunday the Doyle’s drive past it on their way to worship. They give thanks for his life and the lives changed since that night in December.

In tomorrow’s installment, two Habitat for Humanity houses are raised in Jeremy’s honor and the Doyle’s take a life-changing trip to Haiti.

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