New England

‘You Just Feel So Distraught:' Vt. Woman Loses Legs in Boat Explosion

Friends of a young Vermont woman who lost her legs in a boat explosion in the Bahamas are rallying support for her.

"You just feel so distraught over what they're going through," Amy Merrill of Mendon said of 22-year-old Stefani Schaffer and her family. "They have a long emotional road ahead of them."

Schaffer, her mother, younger sister, and step-dad were on vacation in the Bahamas this weekend when the tour boat they were on exploded into a fireball.

The cause of the blast is still under investigation.

Schaffer, who loved to dance and who was a standout soccer player at Rutland High School, suffered life-threatening injuries, losing both her legs to emergency amputations.

"She is sweet, sweet," family friend Erica McLaughlin said of Stefani Schaffer. "And has a soft, quiet demeanor. But she's a strong young woman, and we know she's got this."

Stefanie's mom, Stacey Bender, was also badly injured. Her younger sister, Brooke Schaffer, and step-father, Paul Bender, were hurt, too.

All told, 10 Americans were aboard the charter boat that exploded, killing one and injuring nine.

Relatives from Vermont have traveled to the Bahamas to be with Stefani and her family.

Back in New England, Merrill and McLaughlin started a GoFundMe effort to raise money for transportation to medical care and for future needs.

"I do believe that the Schaffers will come back to a very supportive community," predicted family friend Melissa Crossman. "We're a tight community and we'll be looking out for them, for sure."

While the Schaffers' and Benders' friends are focusing on Stefanie and her family right now, they have not forgotten about the other victims of that boat tragedy in the Bahamas, saying their sympathies go out to those folks, as well.

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