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District carefully honoring memories of teen crash victims

Posted at 1:13 PM, Jun 30, 2019

GRETNA, Neb. (AP) — A suburban Omaha school district is carefully trying to honor the memories of four high school students killed in a car crash without extending the grieving process.

Four girls who were expected to begin their junior years this fall at Gretna High School were killed June 17 when the car they were in crashed off a rural road just over 3 miles (5 kilometers) west of Springfield. The car was in flames when first responders arrived.

They four were Abby Barth, Alex Minardi, Kloe Odermatt and Addisyn Pfeifer. Afifth girl, Roan Brandon, survived the crash with serious burns.

Handmade memorials have cropped up in the high school parking lot. The students who have worked on the memorials want some to last at least long enough for Roan to see when she’s released.

“Bringing everyone together and doing something to remember them helps us grieve and memorialize them,” said Morgan Ehlert, a soon-to-be junior who worked on one of the displays.

But school policy and child mental health experts don’t favor highly public memorials dedicated to students or staffers who have died.

Connie J. Schnoes, a pediatric psychologist at Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health, told the Omaha World-Herald that public memorials are not the only or the healthiest way to mourn. She said the message imparted to kids is that only if you’re important enough and have many friends are you going to have a grand display.

“It also makes me get concerned from a different standpoint: that if I don’t feel important now and I die, maybe then I’ll feel important,” Schnoes said.

Gretna Superintendent Kevin Riley said administrators have talked to students and the girls’ families about finding other ways to honor the four girls. Ideas include creating scholarships, planting trees or installing a memorial bench.

“We have to move out of the grieving process” at some point, Riley said. “That’s what’s healthiest for our kids.”