Local communities grieve over teen girls' deaths


May 23, 2019


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Bessemer — An accident last Saturday morning that resulted in the fatalities of two high school girls in Bessemer has had a deep impact on the surrounding community.

Lauren Powless, 18, and Madeline Jackson, 15, died when the vehicle in which they were riding went off of Lake Road and struck a tree at about 2:30 a.m. in Ironwood Township.

Zachery Hammond, 20, of Ironwood survived the crash with minor injuries.

The two girls also were from Ironwood, but they were students at A.D. Johnston Junior and Senior High School and shared the additional bond of having been foster sisters.

“Our hearts are aching,” said Bessemer superintendent Dave Wineburner.

Wineburner and Dan Niemi, ADJ principal, took time on Wednesday to talk to the Daily Globe about how school officials and other members of the community have been trying to help students to cope with the tragedy.

Students themselves, however, also found ways to address the issue themselves. Niemi said they organized a Sunday evening vigil on their own at the site of the accident, where they left flowers and photos.

“The kids were almost a step ahead of us,” said Niemi, who added, “I think the healing started at that point. They did a great job.”

School officials also have been busy ever since they first learned of the accident early Saturday morning. Niemi said he and Wineburner met then with members of their immediate crisis team, which includes Mark Movrich, Nick Heikkila and Diana Hanson, as well as some other staff members.

They notified the entire staff, prepared statements, and made initial decisions regarding how to move forward.

On Sunday afternoon, Niemi said the entire school staff met to develop a plan regarding how to address students on Monday morning.

Representatives from the Gogebic-Ontonagon Intermediate School District, other area schools, local law enforcement, and other agencies also attended.

“Our kids know each other, and it impacts all of us,” said Wineburner regarding the “welcome” support received from other schools. Moreover, Powless also had attended Luther L. Wright K-12 School through her ninth grade.

Niemi commended Corrie Riel, who heads the Gogebic County community trauma team from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, who he said did “a great job” in directing them.

He also commended Crystal Suzik of the Range Suicide Prevention Council. “She offered a lot of help with the kids, and she’s been here through the duration,” he said.

“They don’t give you a class in this,” said Wineburner regarding how the district staff has approached the issue. “You kind of have to feel your way through it.”

He said the interplay of support among staff, including clergy, local law enforcement and other agencies, and other community members has made all the difference. “I’m so proud of them,” he said regarding Niemi and school staff and added that support from local law enforcement, other schools and agencies, and other community members has been “nothing short of amazing.”

“It’s going to affect us all,” said Wakefield-Marenisco superintendent Jason Gustafson to his board of education members at their Monday evening.

He explained that junior high and high school students from the Wakefield K-12 School were assembled in the gym Monday morning so that head teacher and counselor Mark Lane could explain the accident and provide support.

Gustafson added Wednesday that all area schools had grief support workers available Monday.

Wakefield-Marenisco students and staff also prepared sympathy cards and delivered them with blue and yellow flowers to ADJ.

David Jackson, Madeline’s brother, will be among 30 students participating in their high school graduation ceremony in ADJ’s gym on Friday evening. Powless also had been set to graduate with that group.

“It’s going to be an emotional day,” said Wineburner, who added that Powless’ image will be in a slideshow with her fellow basketball players.

He added, however, “We’re going to celebrate their lives” and explained that both of the lost girls would want their classmates to move forward with their own lives.

As a benefit for the girls’ families, a spaghetti dinner will be held on May 28 from 4-7 p.m. at VFW Post 3673 on U.S. Hwy. 2 in Bessemer.


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