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Drew Ryder, of Willmar, left Tuesday for Australia, where he and his wife will attend a memorial service for his brother and sister-in-law, who were killed in the downing of an airliner in Ukraine. He is shown in his Willmar office where he has a large map on his wall showing his home country of Australia. (Carolyn Lange/Willmar Tribune)

Willmar man’s brother killed in Ukraine plane crash

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WILLMAR, Minn. –– A Willmar couple left for Australia Tuesday where they will attend the memorial service for two family members who were among the 298 people killed when Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down last week in Ukraine.

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 Drew Ryder and his wife, Edith, will travel to the western Australian town of Albany where the life of Ryder’s older brother, Arjen, 54, and sister-in-law Yvonne, 52, will be celebrated.

Drew Ryder, who was born and raised in Australia, moved to Willmar seven years ago to start his business, Feedlogic, located on the MinnWest Technology Campus.

He’s returning to Australia to mourn, but not to demand answers or retribution.

Ever since he learned of his brother’s death, Ryder has been serving as a messenger of peace during a time of turmoil for families involved with the plane crash and dozens of countries on edge about how to respond to the incident.

Ryder said he’s lost count of the number of media interviews he has done, including with high-profile national outlets that he hopes will deliver his message of Christian forgiveness to the Russian rebels in Ukraine where the airliner was brought down.

Tall, composed and earnest, Ryder acknowledges his calmness does not seem “rational,” but he said he’s not “angry with God” and he harbors “no malice” toward the perpetrators.

Instead, it’s his prayer that his message will “soften their hearts” and that the fighting will cease.

That message has apparently struck a chord with people around the world who have seen his interviews.

Ryder said he has been hearing from other people who have experienced loss, including a man who forgave the killer of his brother.

Forgiveness is a core component of his faith, Ryder said, and he firmly believes that “everything happens for a reason” even though that reason may be difficult to understand now.

As news trickles in about developments at the crash site, Ryder said he has been following the basic news, but he said the details aren’t important to him.

The possibility that the bodies of his brother and sister-in-law may not be returned for the memorial service on Monday is also not important. He said his family is more concerned with “issues of the spirit, not the body” and having a faith that’s “completely infiltrated in your life.”

While Ryder is responding with forgiveness, he said he does not want his views to “belittle the pain” of families of other victims.

He also said he hopes Russian President Vladimir Putin “stops his aggression” in controlling the resources in Ukraine.

Reuters reported Monday that Western governments have threatened Russia with stiffer penalties for what they say is its backing of pro-Russian militia in Ukraine who, their evidence suggests, shot the plane down.

“Three hundred people died because of a land grab,” said Ryder, who said he hopes “people in power” have heard his message about faith and forgiveness.

“My prayer is that we can change some hearts there,” he said. “We’re planting seeds.”

Ryder said when he returns from Australia, he may consider writing a book containing stories of loss and forgiveness and is inviting people to contact him with their stories.

He said members of his church, Willmar Christian Reformed Church, have already shared some of their stories with him and have been a source of comfort and support since the crash happened.

Ryder said he’s also willing to talk to groups about how his faith has helped carry him through this ordeal.

Ryder said he wants to engage with “whoever God puts me in contact with as part of this tragedy.”

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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