It will take time to heal the wound left by the tragic death of 9-year-old Kameron Johnson, the lone fatality of a terrifying and traumatic bus accident in Arkansas that injured 45 others Monday morning.
But the city and nation have responded rapidly with condolences and donations to help make sure an emotional tragedy doesn’t become a financial one also. At least two fundraisers have been launched on the education-themed crowd-funding site SchoolSeed.com.
The Achievement School District, in conjunction with Aspire Public Schools, have raised upwards of $4,300 of a $10,000 goal on School Seed as of Wednesday afternoon. But after media outlets mistakenly reported that Johnson’s funeral had been paid for, officials shut down the fundraiser to avoid confusion. An anonymous benefactor has pledged to ensure Johnson’s final expenses will be paid, said ASD spokesman Bobby White.
“At this point, Aspire and the ASD have decided to end the fundraising effort for funeral expenses through School Seed Foundation,” White said in an email statement that also thanked donors for their pledges. “This decision was based on Aspire receiving a pledge from a local, reputable donor to make up the difference for funeral costs beyond the funds raised through this recent effort with ASD, Aspire, and School Seed Foundation. This donor wishes to remain anonymous.”
As of Wednesday, a separate SchoolSeed fundraiser by Shelby County Schools had raised nearly $4,000 of a $10,000 goal for the broader purpose of helping SCS families impacted by the accident.
White said that arrangements for Johnson’s funeral had not yet been finalized. “It’s a very emotional time for the family,” he said. “They are dealing with a lot.”
School officials – particularly teachers and staff at Coleman Elementary, where Johnson was a third grader – recalled having to deliver difficult news to tender ears.
“If I was to close my eyes and go back to that room when we had that conversation . . . you just saw heartache,” said Aspire Schools Superintendent Nickolaus Manning said just hours after the tragedy at a Monday afternoon press conference.
“You saw hearts broken. We saw tears. We saw hugs. Our focus is on helping the parents of these scholars, our staff, students and families during this difficult time,” he said, his own lip quivering.
Manning also said that teachers and staff find themselves in the precarious position of helping their students grieve even as they try to find a few moments to allow themselves to mourn.
“Remember, there are also adults impacted by this,” said Manning, who added that counselors and other support tools have been made available for the faculty and families of students. He also mentioned rallying behind each other.
“We’ve seen adults rallying around each other,” he said. “Some with a little more strength saying, ‘What can I do for you today, so you can be with your students?’ or ‘Can I do this for you today so you can take time for yourself?’ And we’re seeing that same consoling with our young people.”
Flanking Manning at the podium were Bobby White of the Achievement School District and Shelby County Schools Board member Stephanie Love.
“This is a Memphis tragedy,” Love said. “We have several students from Shelby County Schools. When we send our prayers, let’s pray for Memphis as a whole, because this impacts Memphis.
“I would encourage the Raleigh community to wrap your arms around the school,” she continued. “This is a loss that is not going to heal quickly.”
The accident happened early Monday morning as the Memphis Wolfpack — an Orange Mound Youth Association football team — made its way back from a football tournament in Dallas.
Arkansas State Police said the bus crashed along Interstate 30 near Benton, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of Little Rock. Police said most of the injured were children who were taken to hospitals in Little Rock and Benton.
The team was riding a charter bus operated by Scott Shuttle Service in Somerville, Tenn. Officials at Arkansas Children’s Hospital told media Monday afternoon that 22 of the 26 children treated there had been released to family members. Of the four students still being treated, all were reported in stable condition with recovery expected.
Authorities are investigating the cause of the crash. The bus driver, 65-year-old Eula Jarrett of Tennessee, told state police that she lost control. The heavily damaged bus came to a stop after tumbling down a steep embankment next to the crook of a sharp bend on an offramp. Conditions were clear and dry at the time of the crash, around 2:40 a.m., police said.
No charges had been filed.
On condition of anonymity, one parent spoke about the incident with The New Tri-State Defender.
“I received a call at 2 a.m. from my son and everything was fine,” said the parent. “I then called to check on him around 3 a.m. and he told me the bus was involved in an accident.”
Not surprisingly, the parent leapt up and flew out of the house.
“Scared, I immediately drove to Arkansas Children’s Hospital,” the parent said. “The scene at the hospital was calm, everybody was shaken up and all the kids were counted for. Arkansas Children’s Hospital really took care of the children.”
Live video from the scene showed the heavily damaged bus on its side on an embankment near some dense woodland, just at the crook of a sharp bend in the road. The bus was hoisted upright and pulled from the scene late Monday morning.
And while officials are still searching for answers, Manning and other school officials are trying to make sense of it all.
“We’re just doubling down, working as hard as we can to meet the needs of young people, to meet the needs of folks who care deeply about these families in the best way possible,” Manning said. “We know that this crash has impacted the community in a major way. We know this is more than Aspire Coleman. This is more than the Raleigh community. This is larger than us.”
Manning spoke of Johnson’s character and impact.
“Well, when we think about a young person – so young, a third grader – he was a young man just full of life and full of energy, full of potential,” Manning said with a smile. “It’s hard to put into words the future this young man had.
“But he’s a young person who’s near and dear to our hearts and made a huge inpact on our school,” he continued. “When we talked to (students) here, you just saw it on their face. You saw it on the face, about what that young person meant to them, the impact he had on the school community, the teachers and students and adults here.”
Manning said that the tragedy has hit faculty and family members hard as well.
“Like our teachers and our principals, and these folks here every day, they’re just working on being in those classrooms and connecting with those families and people like myself on our regional team,” he continued. “We’ve been focused on all those operational tasks that we understand need to get done so we can clear the brush for us.
“And then for myself, personally, I have time, after I’m done meeting with you great folks, to do a little sense-making for myself.”
TSD freelancer Dalisia Brye contributed to this report. Additional reporting from the Associated Press provided by: Jill Bleed, Adrian Sainz in Memphis and Rebecca Reynolds Yonker in Louisville, Kentucky.