The joy of Friday night’s homecoming celebration in two small south-central Minnesota communities turned to grief after a head-on collision near Montgomery, Minn., left four dead, including an 11-year-old girl.

Dead at the scene were sixth-grader Mary C. Urtuzuastegui and her stepfather, Condon L. Hulgan, 51, both of Montgomery, as well as Jeffery J. Miller, 22, and Travis A. Reak, 24, both of Le Center, Minn.

Jeff’s brother, Mark A. Miller, 24, also of Le Center, was recovering from injuries at North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale, where he was flown from the Le Sueur County collision scene.

The State Patrol’s early findings indicate that Hulgan’s 1996 Ford Explorer crossed the highway’s centerline and collided with a 1979 Mercedes-Benz sedan driven by Jeffery Miller.

The accident occurred about 10 p.m. on a curve on County Road 26, also known as Lexington Road NW., outside Montgomery, which is about 45 miles south of Minneapolis.

Hulgan’s SUV was westbound; the Miller car was heading east, the State Patrol said.

Hulgan and his stepdaughter lived 3 miles south of that curve, on 191st Avenue, off County Road 26. The brothers and their friend lived in Le Center, which is about 10 miles from Montgomery.

Mary recently won third place statewide in her age group for an essay on what freedom she most enjoys in America.

“We have the freedom of being ourselves because we live in a democracy,” the girl wrote in an “Americanism” contest by a local American Legion Women’s Auxiliary, said her principal, Mindy Reeder of the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic School.

“The freedom of being yourself is so great because you get to say what you want to say,” Mary wrote. “You can do what you want to do. You can be yourself.”

Saturday morning, Mary’s mother, Doreen Devoy-Hulgan, was surrounded by a large group of friends as she grappled with the loss of her daughter and her husband, known as “Sparky” Hulgan.

“Mary is just a beautiful spirit,” Reeder said of the girl, who recently helped raise money for T-shirts for kids in the school choir.

The family had moved to Montgomery from Arizona in 2011, she said.

Families of the men who were killed declined to comment.

The Millers are from a large, close-knit family, said Le Center Mayor Josh Fredrickson, who spoke of how the tragedy is hurting this community of about 2,500.

“Ultimately, it’s just a tragedy, and not much more can be said other than we have to focus on the importance of family at this point,” Fredrickson said.

“It’s a big blow, there’s no doubt about it,” he said, adding that the city will now support Jeff’s brother, Mark Miller, in his recovery. The patrol said he had injuries that were not life-threatening.

Tri-City United School, composed of students from Le Center, Montgomery and Lonsdale, had just won its homecoming football game, 47-6, over Sibley East. Many in the neighboring communities were there.

“It was homecoming night, everybody in town celebrating, and now we have to deal with this tragedy,” said Jean Keogh, mayor of Montgomery, with a population of about 3,000.

“Certainly, our sympathies go out to the families of the victims. One of the good things about a small community is that we tend to pull together and support each other, and help each other. That will be here for the families,” Keogh said.

Lt. Eric Roeske, a spokesman for the Minnesota State Patrol, said it was not yet known what led to Hulgan crossing the centerline.

A “Hulgan Family Fund” has been established at Frandsen Bank & Trust, 125 1st St. S., Montgomery, Minn., 56069.