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Family mourns loss of 3½-month-old child: 'You just feel dazed and confused,' in a haze

Monica Bliss Ockwig, left, holds a photo of Whyatt Sander, 3½ months, who died Sunday when a van backed over the tent holding him and his mother. Also pictured is Melissa Prechel. Ockwig is the paternal grandmother of the victim and Prechel is the sister of the woman accused of driving the van. The boy's father, Jacob Sander, and defendant Nicolle Marie Mercedes Prechel are cousins.Ockwig said the family intends to not let the tragedy divide them. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

WILLMAR - Sheena Hinshaw's last memory of her 3½-month-old son, Whyatt Sander, was his smile as she coddled him in the tent as the boy's father, Jacob Sander, stood outside and shook the morning dew from the tent's rain fly. That's according to Sander's mother, Monica Bliss Ockwig.

Her first and last look at her grandson will be at his funeral Friday.

"Devastated,'' said Ockwig, of Wasilla, Alaska, as she told the family's story Wednesday following the first court appearance for the woman charged in the child's death.

Ockwig said she holds no animosity toward Nicolle Marie Mercedes Prechel, 31, of Willmar. Prechel faces seven charges -- including two for felony criminal vehicular homicide -- for allegedly backing her van over the tent holding the mother and child on Sunday in Beaver Falls Park near Morton.

Ockwig read a prepared statement from the family expressing its hope that "justice will prevail."

She said her 27-year-old son has been unable to rid himself of the painful image of his son falling out of the tent after it was dragged by the van.

The child's mother, 21-year-old Hinshaw, remains equally troubled by the pain of her memories as well as the physical wounds she suffered. "It's very, very tough,'' she said.

"Whyatt was their lives. He was the life force that ran through them,'' said Ockwig.

"Having that snatched from you, you just feel dazed and confused; a haze you cannot wake up from,'' she said.

The defendant is her niece, and a cousin to her son.

Ockwig said the two were "good cousins'' who often enjoyed getting together for activities. They were camping together in adjacent sites when the Sunday morning tragedy occurred.

Ockwig described her grandson's death as "senseless.'' Family members are trying to make something of it by telling his story in hopes of preventing other similar tragedies, she said.