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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." 

Central Oregon / Sisters / Top Stories
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Rhea Panela

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



  1. My nephew graduated from sisters in 2000 he was the defensive end on the 98,99 state champion He know sisters and f.s. road 15 He was out hunting ang teaching his 15yr old son how to drive. He took his son to the crash site for a life learning experience. He said pole creek road was as rough as hes ever seen it. He said these kids hit washboards that cause them to lose control. Its the forest service job to keep these roads in drivable condition especially to a heavy used trailhead like pole creek. The family needs to get a lawyer then get pictures before they grade it because they will. And sue the **** OUT OF THE U.S.F.S.

    1. I’m very sorry these young people died. Truly tragic!

      However, you are the type of apologist who always blames someone else. Grow a pair and take responsibility for your own outcomes instead of scapegoating anyone you can identify. Roads get washboarded out when there is too much, too fast traffic. Slow down, try that instead of weakly placing blame.

      1. Yup. Gravel roads get washboards. Driver’s responsibility to match speed to road conditions and wear their seat belts. Pole Creek’s no where near as bad as others. It would be great if the F.S. graded all 300,000+ miles of their roads on a regular basis but taxpayers wouldn’t want to pay for it. I don’t want them to shut down access to them due to “unsafe conditions”

    2. If you’re going fast enough for washboards in the road to throw you that far off track you’re going to fast. Full stop.

      It’s great that you opine on something you heard from someone else with such potency though.

    3. The problem with your “theory of responsibility” is that the FS is already chronically underfunded due to things like fighting wildfires. So, even if it were possible to “idiot proof” every mile of forest road there will never be the budget for that.

      However, what they will do if it comes to lawsuits like you suggest is that they will simply close the roads. Then all they have to say is “the accident was the fault of people illegally driving on a closed road”. And the rest of us will then have to deal with the repercussions of that every time we wish to access our public lands.

      Bottom line is you are being unreasonable. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and blame can’t be assigned to any other party.

      1. If they weren’t spending all their money decommissioning roads due to travel management. And by the way They were having to reopen those roads to get to the fires.And lets not forget the people that almost died.When they couldn’t get out of pole creek T.H. parking lot. When that went up in flames because they had closed the surrounding roads.. GO BACK TO THE CITY california,portland just go.

    4. Its the forest service job to keep these roads in drivable condition – While this statement is somewhat true the tone of the comment is one of the reasons the forest service wants to close the roads.

  2. What is also very difficult is to talk about the 2 most recent losses in generalities, rather than individuals that we have known for years. Everyone in town knows who they are, but we can not speak their names or share their stories. The school can only refer to “the loss of two more Outlaws.”

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