As counselors and administrators work to help students and staff at Hickory High School who knew the victims of Sunday’s tragic crash, experts say it’s important to have people around to talk to.
“Have somebody there to be able to help them communicate. Help them talk about their grief,” said Meg Harris, with Alta Behavioral Health.
On Sunday night, 16-year-old Alexis Myers and 15-year-old Danielle Nelson died when the SUV they were riding in slid out of control, hit one semi, spun around and was hit head-on by another semi on I-80. Two other Hickory students in that SUV are in a Pittsburgh hospital in critical condition.
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Harris said tragedies like this can cause ripple effects for others who may already be emotionally fragile.
“This does trigger other things that, maybe, the kids have been exposed to in their past or other adversities that have impacted them. So, certainly, they are carrying a lot with them.”
That impact often touches more than just those who knew the victims.
“It’s definitely one of the more severe types of situations that we could get involved in,” said Mercer East End Fire Chief Bill Finley.
Thirteen of the department’s members were at the crash Sunday night while dozens of other first responders handled the other accidents that happened in a 20-mile stretch of the interstate within half-an-hour.
As emotional as this scene was, training teaches control.
“One of the things that you teach yourself throughout that training is you treat those people the same as you would want somebody to treat your folks,” Finley said.
Still, Mercer and its neighboring agencies may hold their own crisis debriefing session later this week to help first responders deal with their own grief.
Grief counselors were on hand at Hickory High School on Monday for anyone needing someone to talk to.
This story has been edited to correct the spelling of Meg Harris’ last name. We’re sorry for the mistake.