Kathy Williams was confident that the car wreck on the evening news didn't involve her son, his wife or their two young boys. It happened on a curvy stretch of rural road near Joshua and Brandy Williams's home, sure, but it was past where they live. The crash also happened in the late afternoon, when they're likely to be settled at home.
"I called their house, and I got Brandy's mother," Kathy Williams said Wednesday at her home in Supply. "I called her and asked, 'Are my boys home?' And she said no. That's when I knew."
Joshua and Brandy Williams died Tuesday afternoon with their sons, 6-year-old Gavin and 9-year-old Joshua. They were driving between their home in Ash and the boys' elementary school when their car collided with a Brunswick County school bus traveling in the opposite direction, according to state police.
In an instant, a young family was wiped out, leaving family and friends raw with grief and shock.
"Every parent's worst nightmare is to get that call, that says 'There's been an accident,'" Kathy Williams said. "But to get that call and hear it's all of them, all four of them, the grandbabies ... it's beyond belief."
Police are still investigating the circumstances of the crash, which also gave the bus driver and a student on board minor injuries. Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Jeff Gordon said a preliminary investigation shows the Williams' car drifted left of the center of the road when it entered a curve, colliding with the bus.
Kathy Williams takes a small amount of comfort in the fact that she was told the four died instantly. She works at a nearby hospital, and coworkers there said the boys' bodies were left largely unmarred.
"They said they looked like little angels asleep," she said.
Joshua Williams moved with his mother and sister to North Carolina from Arkansas when he was about five years old. Friends and family remembered him as an avid outdoorsman who loved to hunt and fish. He met Brandy about 12 years ago at the beach, and the two had been together ever since.
"Even though she's not my biological sister, she's been my sister," said Kirby Williams, Joshua's sister. No one answered the door at the home of Brandy's mother on Wednesday.
The couple had stayed in the town of Ash _ about an hour's drive southwest of Wilmington _ so their sons could attend Waccamaw Elementary School, Kathy Williams said. The older boy, who went by his middle name Kendall, stood out for his soccer and basketball skills at the close-knit school.
"Kendall was so friendly, just a popular little boy," Kirby Williams said. The younger child, who had just started kindergarten, was more shy, and relatives had to keep a close eye on soda and sweets when he was around.
"Gavin was a little imp," said his grandmother, who could drive from her house to theirs in about a half-hour. "Mischievous. He'd hide behind his daddy's legs and just peek out at you."
School photos taken last fall showed two grinning, blonde boys in striped, collared shirts. The deaths are especially hard for the small school, which was still grieving the death of an eighth grader in an accidental shooting last month.
Brunswick County deputies at the school Wednesday said school officials are declining to comment, and referred questions to the school system. A call to a spokeswoman there was not immediately returned.
Relatives are still working out funeral arrangements. Kathy Williams wants to have one service and burial for all four.
"I want to make sure they're all together, no matter what," she said.
Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report from New York.