These Texas Newlyweds Were Killed Just Hours After Their Fairytale Wedding

There are usually many special moments in life, but few prove more memorable than getting married. And a wedding is usually a joyous occasion celebrating the love that brings a pair to pledging to spend the rest of their lives together. When Will Byler and Bailee Ackerman wed in 2018, then, their big day should have been just the first of many as a married couple. But only hours after the couple had tied the knot, events took a shocking turn.

Senior students at Sam Houston State University, Byler and Ackerman both shared a real interest in agriculture during their time at the college. Byler studied engineering in that particular subject, while Ackerman focused more on communications. In the winter of 2017, though, the pair made plans to change their lives forever.

You see, it was then that Ackerman went on Facebook to confirm that she and Byler were getting married – much to the delight of her friends. The wedding itself was duly set for around 11 months later in Uvalde, Texas, at a ranch owned by the groom’s relatives. And when the time eventually came, the couple tied the knot in a picturesque ceremony.

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The event was held outside in beautiful weather conditions, with one guest going on to describe the occasion as a “fairy-tale wedding.” As the day progressed, Ackerman and Byler then continued their celebrations at the reception before leaving later in the evening. Not long after that, though, the newlyweds’ story would end in tragedy. Heartbreakingly, the happy couple would die in awful circumstances.

Finding the right partner can be an incredibly difficult task that may take years or even decades to achieve. That’s not the case for everyone, of course, as some are lucky enough to find their loves of their lives during their younger years – at school, perhaps, or in college.

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And Byler and Ackerman definitely fell into the second category. A former resident of Bellville, Byler was an engineering student at Sam Houston State University. His family also owned a building business in Houston called W.T. Byler Co.

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When Byler wasn’t hitting the books, though, he may have been engaging in a particular sport. You see, the student was a member of the college’s rodeo team. And during his time on the squad, his skill in the steer-wrestling discipline earned him plenty of plaudits.

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“[Byler] was an exceptional athlete. [In the] past two rodeos, he really cleaned up,” the steer wrestler’s friend Garrett Jacobs told ABC 13 News in 2018. “He actually won the very last college rodeo we had.” And as Byler’s rodeo skills continued to thrive at the university, his personal life was in a good place as well.

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In particular, Byler had a serious girlfriend, Ackerman, who shared his interest in agriculture. A native of Orangefield, TX, she had competed in a number of Future Farmers of America contests as a high school student before enrolling at Sam Houston State University.

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Then, while at college, Ackerman focused her attention on communications – and she and Byler ultimately formed a loving relationship to boot. So, at the end of 2017 the couple decided to take the next step in their relationship, meaning Ackerman had an announcement to share with friends on Facebook.

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“Thank you to everyone who sent us their best wishes when WE GOT ENGAGED!” Ackerman wrote on the social media website in December 2017. “Will Byler and I have the best support system out there, and I cannot truly express how blessed we are.” She had some kind words for her future husband, too.

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Ackerman added, “I am in awe of you, Will Byler. I hope that everyone gets to experience a love like the one we have. Today is the beginning of forever TOGETHER!” That post subsequently earned over 650 likes and more than 50 shares on Facebook as well as dozens of congratulatory comments from online users.

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Among the well-wishers was an old friend of Byler’s, who offered some heartwarming words to the student and his bride-to-be. “Congrats!” Byler’s buddy wrote in response to the engagement announcement. “[Byler’s] always been a good kid! I’m sure he will be a great husband!”

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Then the wedding date was eventually set for November 2018. It was revealed, too, that the ceremony would be held at the Byler family’s farm in Uvalde. And, naturally, both Byler and Ackerman started to prepare for the big day alongside their respective college studies.

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Over the next few months, Byler and Ackerman also appeared together in a number of special photos that had been taken on the ranch ahead of the occasion. In fall 2018 Ackerman took to social media, too, to sum up how she felt just before the wedding. And it seems that all the preparation she had undertaken hadn’t affected her positive outlook.

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“This whole ‘bride’ experience has been more than I have ever dreamed of,” Ackerman wrote on Facebook in September 2018. “And we still have so much left to do. Thank you ALL for the memories. I am a lucky lady.” That post also generated a big response on the social media website, earning just under 380 likes.

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Then Byler and Ackerman’s wedding day finally arrived. And thankfully for the couple, the weather was picturesque, belying the time of year. Indeed, while the bride and groom took their places at the ranch, it was beneath a beautiful sky in Uvalde.

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Ackerman and Byler duly exchanged their vows at the ceremony, becoming husband and wife. They continued their celebrations, too, at the wedding reception, which ran for the rest of the evening. As the party drew to a close, though, the newlyweds planned their next move.

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Byler and Ackerman were due to fly out to San Antonio, TX, to kick off their honeymoon following the wedding. But it seems that the pair wanted to travel in style, as they chose to make the journey via helicopter. The chopper itself was a Bell 206B model that belonged to the groom’s family.

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And one guest recalled the atmosphere at Byler and Ackerman’s wedding at that time. “We celebrated their fairy-tale wedding, and they were surrounded by their family and friends as they flew off in the family helicopter,” Eric Smith later shared on social media. Just minutes after that goodbye, however, tragedy struck.

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A short time after leaving the ranch – and some 15 miles into the journey – the helicopter was involved in a serious accident. And, horrifically, Ackerman and Byler were killed in the wreckage, as was pilot Gerald Lawrence, who had had two decades’ worth of experience with the Bell 206B.

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Then, later that morning, Rachel Kellner and Dennis Gazaway from the Search and Rescue team at Texas Parks and Wildlife discovered the chopper. Byler’s family were also able to get to the scene soon after via another helicopter. The authorities had a tougher time, though; as it turned out, they couldn’t reach the crash site from the road.

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And Kellner would go on to speak about what she and Gazaway had found at the location. “We definitely saw the helicopter in a terrible state,” the game warden told ABC News in 2018. “It was in debris along the side of the hill. We told the family that we would stay there with their loved ones.”

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Ackerman, Byler and Lawrence’s bodies were all subsequently recovered from the helicopter, with Sam Houston State University confirming the deaths of the two students via its newspaper, The Houstonian. An announcement was also made on the publication’s Facebook page as a means of sharing the sad news.

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“It is with deepest sadness that we announce the tragic passing of two Bearkats,” read The Houstonian’s social media post. “Will Byler (agriculture engineering senior) and Bailee Ackerman Byler (agricultural communication senior) [died] in a helicopter accident departing their wedding. We ask that you keep the Byler and Ackerman families in your thoughts and prayers.”

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That heartbreaking message subsequently generated a massive response from online users, as people looked to pay their respects to both Byler and Ackerman. The post earned over 6,000 likes and close to 4,500 shares on Facebook as well as just under 2,000 comments.

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“This is such a sad tragedy in so many ways,” read one of the messages in the post’s comments section. “It’s almost one of those things [where] you don’t know what to think. [To] the families left behind, my thoughts are with them and the family of the pilot.” The user’s heartfelt words didn’t end there, though.

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“So young and just starting out,” the individual added. “It makes you wonder about things like this. Lord, there is so much heartache these days for so many.” And a fellow social media user who was familiar with the Bylers echoed that sense of loss.

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That person wrote, “This is incomprehensible. It’s absolutely tragic. I know [Byler’s] family and knew him briefly when he was a small child. Our prayers are with them while they put their lives back together.” And the commenter was just one of the many people who offered their support and shared their sadness at the accident.

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News of the newlyweds’ deaths even apparently touched those who had never known the couple. “I had to re-read the story,” another person wrote in response to The Houstonian’s post. “[I’m] feeling the loss for two people I never even met.”

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The social media user added, “For these two newlyweds [and] their families, they have all lost more than words can express. I am so sorry to know what has happened. Life is too short and sometimes much too cruel and confusing. Prayers for those left behind to forever grieve.”

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Sam Houston State University also paid its own tribute to Ackerman and Byler following the helicopter accident. In particular, one of the student officials released a statement on the matter that both reflected on the tragic losses and looked at the couple’s respective achievements.

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“These two individuals made a huge impact and will be remembered by their kind hearts and uplifting spirits,” the message from David Eller read. “By serving in their communities and the Sam Houston State University on the SHSU rodeo team and in various student organizations, Will and Bailee exemplified the university motto, ‘The Measure of a Life Is Its Service.’”

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One of Ackerman’s closest buddies then came forward after the crash, with Katie Ellis offering some in-depth insight into her friend’s personality. And according to Ellis, it was pretty much love at first sight between Ackerman and Byler.

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“[Ackerman] was full of life, beautiful and could light up a room with her smile,” Ellis wrote in a direct message to the San Antonio Express-News. “When Bailee met [Byler], she completely fell in love. Will was so adventurous and lived life to the fullest every single day, and Bailee always went with the flow.”

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And Ellis’ emotional tribute to the late newlyweds continued, “I love them both so dearly, and they will always be so special to me. They will be greatly missed by many. One day, we will all see their smiles and dimples again.”

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Then, a few days on from the deaths of Byler, Ackerman and Lawrence, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) published its “preliminary report.” After investigating the crash, the agency confirmed that the chopper had hit the side of a large hill in Uvalde, with the wreckage found near the top of the geographical feature.

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And while the NTSB couldn’t provide a clear answer at that stage as to why the Bell 206B had crashed, it did offer some other information about the circumstances of the flight. The report revealed, for instance, that Lawrence had been flying through a clear sky prior to the accident; the pilot had only had to contend with some minor wind during the journey, too.

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Then, following the initial investigation, the remains of the helicopter were taken away from the crash site, leaving experts to get a better opportunity to assess what may have happened that night. As it currently stands, though, the NTSB still hasn’t released a complete report on the matter.

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As for Byler and Ackerman, their funerals were scheduled a short time after the tragic crash. On November 8, 2018, a memorial service for the late newlyweds drew a huge number of people at a church in Vidor, TX. Then, later that same day, the couple were subsequently transported back to the Byler ranch, where they were both laid to rest.

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