Stephen Heitmann and Justin Harper were driving home from the hospital when the idea hit them.
It was late on the night of Sept. 4. Hours earlier, 14-year-old Jae Ellis of Calhan had died in a car accident; her brother, Jourdan, 16, who was driving, was critically injured. Stephen and Justin, friends of the Ellis children, rushed to the hospital when they got word of the accident.
"We got there and found out that Jae had passed away and Jourdan was still in surgery," Stephen recalled.
Stephen and Justin, who are best friends, both felt an immediate need to help.
"On the drive home," Stephen said, "we both kind of looked at each other, and we both said, let's do a benefit rodeo."
It was an idea that came naturally. "We're both rodeo people," Justin said. "We've been in the game for a long time. Everything's about rodeo."
What they couldn't have known was that the idea, formed to help one grieving family, would quickly expand to include another.
The next day, the second shock came. Stephen got a call from his father.
"There's been another one," his father told him.
Just 14 hours or so after the first accident, 16-year-old Tiffany O'Neill, also of Calhan, had died in another accident on the same road, Funk Road, and in almost the same spot.
"It just blew my mind that of all the people it could have happened to, it had to happen to those two kids," Stephen said.
Jae's death hit home for me and my wife. Her father was one of the first people we met through our move last year to the country; he did some work on our house before we even moved in. For Stephen and Justin, the connections run much deeper.
Justin, 17, is a junior at Calhan School District RJ1; Stephen, 16, used to go to Calhan and is now a junior at Ellicott High School.
"I moved here from Montana in my fifth-grade year," Stephen said. "Jourdan was the first kid that ever came up and talked to me, who was friendly to me in school." The two wrestled together, played football together. And Stephen got to know Jae as well.
"She was just a really good person," he said.
Justin knew Tiffany back when they had previously attended school in Falcon. "She was a country girl," he said. "She was a spitfire, but she was a good girl." Jourdan, meanwhile, was his wrestling partner in high school. "His sister," Justin said, "was just a sweetheart."
The rodeo will start at noon Saturday at Latigo Arena in Black Forest. Events include bareback riding, breakway roping, saddle bronc riding, team roping, barrel racing and bull riding.
"With our connections and what not, we thought it would be easy to put on a pretty big deal, and it turns out it's going to be bigger than we ever thought," Stephen said. A Facebook page devoted to the rodeo quickly gained hundreds of likes, he said, while several sponsors - including Farmers State Bank of Calhan, Equi-Line and Bartlett Hay and Feed Co. - have stepped up to help.
Money will be raised through entry fees and donations and go to help the two families who, as a flier for the rodeo notes, "have endured extreme emotional and financial hardships."
"Jourdan, I couldn't tell you the doctor bills that they've accumulated," Justin said. Jourdan is in rehab; while he can't walk, Justin said he's getting "tingling in his legs and down to his feet. ... He's coming around real well."
Tiffany, meanwhile, left behind an 8-month-old son, Drake. Money raised from a silent auction at the rodeo will go toward a college fund for him, Justin said.
A big cloud continues to hang over the Calhan school, Justin said; the Calhan School District has 500-plus students housed in one large building with grades pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
"We are moving past it," Justin said. "But for the students and all the staff, it's a big deal. We're from a small town and they're just good people."
Bill Radford and his wife live in the countryside east of Colorado Springs with a menagerie that includes one horse, one mule, two goats, two dogs, two cats, a half-dozen chickens, two rabbits, two guinea pigs and two parrots. Contact him: Twitter @billradfordiii, gazettebillradford on Facebook. Follow his blog at blogs.gazette.com/thecountrylife.