Eastern Pulaski school officials expressed their grief and thanked the community for its support, during Monday’s school board meeting. It was the board’s first meeting since the bus accident that claimed the life of eighth grader Owen Abbott and left several others injured.
School Board President Deke DeMarco began Monday’s meeting by reading a prepared statement on behalf of the board. “We would first like to thank all the personnel involved in helping us get through this tragedy,” he said, “from the medical, police, fire, good Samaritans at the scene, to the Plymouth School Corporation personnel who played such a big part, to the administrators, staff, and students at our school, as well as community members and counselors who went above and beyond in their assistance to our students. Words cannot express the gratitude and thanks that we have for these people. We cannot say ‘thank you’ enough.”
He also extended the board’s sympathies to Abbott’s family and said school officials will continue to offer support to them, as well as the entire community. “Please realize that as we move forward, this community will progress through the stages of grief at varying paces and that it’s okay to ask for help,” DeMarco said. “Do not hesitate to reach out for help, whether it is a fellow student, counselor, staff member, administrator, or community member, ask for help.”
Winamac Middle School Principal Ryan Dickinson told board members that he had initially prepared his report to them before the accident. One of the topics he had planned to discuss was the progress his students had made in the stop/look pledge, an initiative begun after October’s fatal bus stop accident in Fulton County. “And then on the final topic, you can see that I was planning on talking about the eighth grade field trip, fully thinking that I was going to get to report on what a great trip everyone had and whatnot for the day,” Dickinson explained. “Unfortunately, you all are aware, we had a tragic school bus incident. It claimed the life of one of our own, Owen Abbot, and others were also minorly injured. Quite simply, our school’s not going to be the same.”
Dickinson publicly thanked the three middle school staff members who were on the bus, Jeff Beach, Candace Anliker, and Andy Stepp, for their efforts to keep the children organized and safe. He also recognized counselor John King and secretary Kim Foerg, for organizing the response back at the school. “We had a lot of community members come to the school and help with counseling, help with food – that’s also businesses and restaurants and things like that, as well – bringing in dogs,” Dickinson added. “That can’t be overstated. The dogs were amazing in helping with processing and the grief process that we were going through here at school.”
Dickinson said the entire school has lost a friend and a peer. “I want to publicly express my grief and heartache for the Owen Abbott family,” he said. “Owen was mine. He was a middle schooler. He’s going to be loved and missed.”
Also expressing his sympathy was Superintendent Dan Foster. “Our hearts are heavy,” he said. “It’s not something you expect. The outpouring of support, encouragement, supplies, love of our students, staff, and community as a whole during this experience has just been unbelievable.”
The school board observed a moment of silence for all of those affected by the tragedy.