Late Monday morning, Cynda Rickert, Eagle Point School District superintendent, sat alone at a table in the offices of School District 9, facing the cameras aimed her way.
“I’ve been in this situation too many times,” she said.
The white of her blazer matched the shade worn by hundreds of mourners who had assembled the night before in Burns Park in White City. All that remained in the park by the time Rickert began speaking were splatters of white candle wax, congealed reminders of the vigil kept to remember and grieve three students killed in a car crash over the weekend.
Gisselle Montaño, Esmerelda Nava and Luciana Tellez had been just weeks away from graduating from Eagle Point High School.
“These were young women who had plans, big plans, bright plans,” Rickert said, her voice trembling with emotion. After a moment, she continued. “These are young women who worked hard to get scholarships so that they could have a very bright future and anybody you would talk to would tell you: look out, we’re going to hear great things about these three young women because they are highly motivated, fabulous young women with bright futures.”
Those futures were tragically cut short Saturday night by a wrong-way driver on Interstate 5 north of Rice Hill. The three friends were headed south in a Nissan Murano at about 9:30 p.m. when a red Acura Integra suddenly turned around in the southbound lane and drove north into oncoming traffic, hitting them and lighting both cars on fire.
Other drivers pulled two passengers from the Nissan, a release from Oregon State Police said Sunday, but no one in the crash survived.
OSP is investigating why the Acura driver began driving north; it also has not released the name of the driver. Anyone with information about the Acura prior to the crash is asked to call 541-440-3333.
Rickert said the families of the three students, some of whom had joined the community in grieving the evening before, asked for privacy — and thanked the drivers who had stopped and tried to help their daughters.
At Eagle Point High School, students in their first day back at school without their classmates rendered their thoughts and feelings on the concrete entrance, using brightly colored chalk to form a tapestry of messages and illustrations.
Rickert said that neighboring school districts, including Medford, had offered up resources in the form of counselors to help students process their grief.
Phil Ortega, Attendance and Safe School coordinator for the school district, said those who had been closest to Nava, Montaño and Tellez will be offered extended counseling options.
“Nobody teaches kids how to deal with loss, much less three,” he said. “Kids are grieving; they don’t know how to process it.”
Rickert said that she had heard the desire expressed to honor the seniors at graduation, but in the early stages of communal sorrow, definite plans hadn’t been made yet.
“I want (the families) to know there are so many people in this district that will sorely miss these three young women, and we can only at some point move toward the gratitude and great memories that we have, that we were able to have them be part of Eagle Point High School,” Rickert said.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.