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Community offers support following death of 3 Sisters teens

(Update: Adding video, comments from family friends)

SISTERS, Ore. (KTVZ) -- After three Sisters High School students died in car crashes within a two-week period, friends of the teens and the Sisters School District are offering ways to help the families and other students.

Oregon State Police said that on Wednesday, Sep. 23, 18-year-old Rianna McGonagle was driving south on U.S. Highway 199 in Josephine County when she veered off the road and her car struck a tree.

McGonagle was a recent Sisters High School graduate who planned to pursue a nursing degree at COCC.  

Emma Ransom, one of her friends, described her Tuesday as “a true bright light in this world.”

“Rianna was the person who was always there for anyone and loved helping others,” Ransom said. “Her laugh was so contagious that when she walked through a room she could make anyone else start to laugh even if you didn’t know the reason you were laughing.”

Ransom said McGonagle is the 11th friend she has lost in just three years.

“It’s to the point where I’m done waking up in the morning, hearing a phone call come in and be ‘Oh, yup -- another person has passed,’” Ransom said.

She said she encourages others who knew McGonagle or the two other students to talk about their feelings openly with others, as a way to cope with the grief.

Deschutes County sheriff’s deputies say two 17-year-old Sisters High School students were among three teens killed last Thursday night when their SUV left a Forest Service road west of Sisters and struck a tree.

A third passenger, identified as 18-year-old Amelie Malerva-Locke from California, also was killed. 

Jennifer Knowles-Seher, a longtime friend of the McGonagle family, organized a Meal Train fundraiser to help the family. She said the Meal Train raised enough money for at least a month’s worth of food in just 24 hours.

“I remember when Rianna was born, and I watched her grow up,” she said. “I would see her everyday going through the line at Dutch Bros. She’s very close to me. I miss her so much.”

Knowles-Seher, a retired nurse, said she admired McGonagle’s desire to pursue a career in nursing.

“That holds a very special place for me, because I know that kind of passion, and I know what she was going for,” she said.

She said she’s willing to help the families of the two other Sisters High School students in any way she can.

"With the other accident taking two more of the youth in town, it’s just very disheartening, but also very confusing," Knowles-Seher said.

Sisters High Principal Joe Hosang said Tuesday that teachers read a brief statement before class, explaining the support available for students.

He said counselors are available, both in-person and virtually, for students who prefer not to come into the building. 

In a statement provided to NewsChannel 21, Hosang said, “As you can imagine, a loss of this magnitude to our community is difficult, but the level of loss for the families is immeasurable. 

"The best thing we can do is respect the families by staying positive and refrain from any comments or postings making accusations or spreading rumors.  This can be deeply hurtful and unfair to the students and their family and friends."

The statement to the community continued, “Please take care of yourselves, love each other and wrap your physical and metaphorical arms around these two families during this tragic time of loss.”

In a statement distributed on Sept. 25, the Sisters School District said, "At each of our schools, we have counselors available for any student or staff member who may need or want help or any type of assistance surrounding this loss." 

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Rhea Panela

Rhea Panela is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Rhea here.


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