News & Media

Warwick fatal car crash shows important role grief counselors play as students struggle to cope

10/30/2018 Lancaster Online By Junior Gonzalez

Warwick High School students and staff returned to class Monday for the first time since a car crash near the school Friday took the lives of two students.

For many counselors across Lancaster County, it was a time to act.

Ten members of the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit’s Flight Team trauma response program were at the high school Saturday and Monday morning.

Jack R. Nicholson, 16, died during surgery Friday, and Meghan Keeney died at a hospital Sunday. Both were juniors at the high school.

Police said 63-year-old Debra Slaymaker-Walker, driving erratically, crashed and flipped a black Hyundai hatchback into vehicles in the 200 block of West Orange Street on Friday.

Slaymaker-Walker remains hospitalized, as does a Warwick High School student identified only as a juvenile male. A GoFundMe page says high school student Rylan Beebe is in the ICU.

Two adult females also injured in the crash were released from the hospital, the district attorney's office said Monday.

“Our main mission is to listen to students, to validate their feelings (and offer) rumor control,” Anita Heller, a psychologist with IU13, said Monday.

Launched in 2008, Flight Team is comprised of 164 counselors, school psychologists and social workers from IU’s 22 member school districts.

When appropriate, school districts can request assistance from the Flight Team, which works to “return the school climate to normal as quickly as possible,” according to the IU13 website.

In addition to the 10 Flight Team members at Warwick Monday, another 10 are on call for assistance, Heller said.

Events typically requiring Flight Team have included fatal accidents, suicide, the sudden death of a student or teacher, and school threats.

The program is updated yearly. In fact, a regularly scheduled training seminar for members on threat assessments will take place at IU13 on Tuesday.

In 2011, a Flight Team assisted Manheim Central School District after a crash in Lebanon County killed four teens that attended the district, according to Heller.

The services provide more than just comfort to students directly affected by recent tragedies.

Heller said some students have visited grief support groups to deal with unresolved grief “triggered” by a new, unrelated event.

“It’s important to be open with them and let them talk about their feelings,” said Stephen Habowski, a counselor at Ephrata High School.

Not giving students the space to seek support “just builds up and just causes more frustration” in the long term.

Over the weekend, several Lancaster County school districts offered to show their support by asking students to wear red and black in solidarity with Warwick.

“It’s an age-appropriate activity that shows we’re together,” Habowski said.

Heller said “it’s a really nice gesture,” for schools, but wished similar acts of solidarity were shown for all traumatic events, not just those that are highly publicized.

Read More