By Tobias Wayland
On March 7th, 2015 a miracle occurred in Spanish Fork, Utah. The previous day a car carrying a young mother, Lynn Jennifer Groesbeck, 25, and her infant daughter, Lily, careened off of a bridge into the frigid Spanish Fork River. There it lie, partially submerged for fourteen hours, until the inverted metal tomb was fished from the river when a local angler stumbled upon the spot of its repose. First responders were quick to the scene, and quicker still to up-end the crashed conveyance when they heard the shouts of help emanating from within. It was only upon righting the aqueous automobile that the humble heroes—too focused on the rescue to spare any attention to even their own hypothermia—realized the impossible: Lynn appeared to have died on impact, and baby Lily was unconscious and unresponsive. Who or what, then, had called for help?
A skeptic might explain such an event with pareidolia, or the tendency of the human brain to find patterns in chaos. This person of such a materialistic mindset would argue that the current of the river or perhaps the call of a nearby bird, as filtered through the hopeful senses of the rescuers, were interpreted as a plaintive cry for help. I cannot, at this late hour, prove that this was not so, any more than the debunker can prove that it was. I do, however, have room for doubt. All four police officers who entered the river claim to have heard the voice of an adult emanating from the vehicle.
According to Salt Lake City’s local Fox affiliate, Channel 13, police officer Tyler Beddoes responded to questions about the validity of the voice by saying “We heard a voice. A distinct voice. It wasn’t thinking, we actually heard someone say, ‘Help me, help me now’ that kind of stuff.”
And he wasn’t alone in his testimony.
"The four of us heard a distinct voice coming from the car,” Officer Jared Warner corroborated to CNN “To me, it didn't sound like a child's voice."
The ambient noise of a small Utah river doesn’t seem likely to be responsible for an adult human voice seemingly emanating from the crashed vehicle. I understand the need for the human mind to piece together random stimuli into something relatable, but not only must the stimuli be present, there must be some cultural belief or need to shape that stimulus. This wasn’t truth being plucked out of the ether by people desperate to find something to reinforce their beliefs. These officers didn’t enter the water with any preconceived expectations. In fact, it was only after they heard the voice that they pushed themselves the hardest to right the car, thinking that perhaps someone might be alive in it after all.
As Beddoes told Fox13, “Something was there and that pushed us harder. When we heard that voice, to us it was somebody’s alive in that car. Let’s get in there and get them out, so anything we could do to get inside that car we tried to do.”
The other explanation that leaps readily to the skeptical mind is that of false memory: the fabrication of events when recalled in our mind’s eye. One could argue that perhaps one officer thought he heard the plaintive cry shouted from within the car, and afterward convinced the others that they had, too. But such an undertaking in so short an amount of time would have required enormous influence. All of the officers involved were interviewed by multiple news outlets within a few days of the incident, and false memories as divergent from reality as this one would seem to need more than such a short time and certainly a stronger stimulus to take hold. I think we can safely assume that our hypothetical officer was unlikely to be a uniformed Svengali, capable of manipulating the minds of his fellow officers into believing his version of events. The absence of such a stimulus as would be necessary to essentially push these men into falsifying their memories with such rapidity is enough to cast serious doubt on false memories as an explanation. We should also consider how, while it was happening, it was not necessarily considered a supernatural event. Only after the fact, with no other immediate explanation at hand, was such an explanation considered.
People often turn to the supernatural in the face of such doubt, and this story has been no exception. A devout person might wonder if what these officers heard wasn’t the voice of an angel, inciting them to quicken their efforts. Personally—theoretical arguments regarding the existence of God aside—I might wonder why it is necessary for an angel to tell a man to hurry up and rescue a child when it was the celestial’s master who put her in danger in the first place. Surely, if God wanted her to live, he could have simply not crashed their car; or, perhaps the slothful seraphim could have rescued her himself, instead of leaving her cold, alone, terrified, and upside down in a partially submerged jeep for fourteen hours. Mysterious ways, indeed.
The more secular students of the supernatural might be quick to point out the possibility of afterlife communication. I readily admit that it’s an attractive idea, and in the face of such a mystery I would just as soon select this truth as any other. That said, the idea fits the facts as reported quite well. If these police officers did, in fact, hear a voice shouting for help in the river that day, and no living human could have made it, then I would be remiss not to consider it. For many, of course, this way lies madness. Solid scientific proof of such a phenomenon alludes us, despite the mountains of circumstantial and anecdotal evidence. This doesn’t preclude the possibility, of course, but that argument won’t convince anyone without another reason to believe.
Which I’m afraid leaves us at something of an impasse. Every explanation leaves room for doubt, and the truth of the matter relies entirely on how you choose to interpret it. The only thing I can say with certainty is that a miracle occurred in Spanish Fork, Utah—a serendipitous confluence of events that culminated in a seemingly supernatural climax, in which coincidence became synchronicity, and the paradoxical duality of divinity was illuminated by the pale light of a late winter’s afternoon. What you choose to do with that is up to you.