CHARLESTON, Ill. (WCIA) — People across Central Illinois are mourning the death of Harper Finn after the news broke of her passing Thursday morning.

The five-year-old girl from Altamont died at St. Louis Children’s Hospital on Wednesday, three days after a tragic accident at the Effingham County Fair. She was hit by a car-mounted starting gate during a harness racing event at the fair.

The news of Harper’s death sent shockwaves across the region, but especially in the horse racing community. The Finns are well known in that community, going back generations. Fairgoers at the Coles County Fair held a prayer on Wednesday and two of them said it is a heartbreaking feeling and they can’t imagine what the Finns are going through.

Coles County Fair Director Tom Niemeyer said the entire situation is devastating.

“These kids of things happen and it’s tragic to lose a little girl like that,” Niemeyer said.

But he went on to say that these kinds of things haven’t happened at his fair.

“We’re never been unfortunate to have anything like that happen here,” Niemeyer said. “We have little things like somebody steps in a hole or something, but we’ve never had a very tragic accident of any kind.”

Niemeyer said it is important to always take precautions during events like this. He always tries to make sure the fairgoers feel protected, and accidents like what happened to Finn are scary because they can happen to anyone.

“We always think about safety first,” Niemeyer said. “It happens, things happen, but we try to think about safety when we’re doing anything out here. Especially with equipment.”

Atlamont native and relative of the Finn family Greg Bandelow said the entire community is heartbroken that one of their own is gone, and at such an early age.

“Everybody’s mood was very somber,” Bandelow said. “They were very upset, they were very sad.” 

The Finn family has received countless messages and an outpouring of love. A GoFundMe started by the Illinois Harness Horseman’s Association has surpassed its original goal by tens of thousands of dollars. Bandelow said gestures like this can help ease the burden during such a hardship.

“This doesn’t bring back the little girl, but it just helps where the money is coming to take care of the funeral expenses,” Bandelow said. “It’ll take care of memorials that you’re going to have to do, and the family is going to have to take time to grieve.”

He also said leaning on faith can be the best thing for the Finns to get through these tough times. 

“Keep your prayers up because God’s got this,” Bandelow said. “Nothing’s really going to help except everyone getting together as a family and just praying about things.”

Effingham County authorities are still investigating what caused the deadly accident. Meanwhile, funeral arrangements for Harper are being made at Giesking Funeral Home in Altamont.