A clearly emotional Dr. Nickalous Manning of Aspire Public Schools in Memphis recalled the moment he had to tell faculty and staff at Coleman Elementary School that one of their classmates died and others were injured in a bus accident in Arkansas Monday morning.
“If I was to close my eyes and go back to that room when we had that conversation . . . you just saw heartache,” Manning said at a Monday afternoon press conference, his own lip quivering. “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.“
The student, 9-year-old Kameron Johnson, was among the more than 45 students and adults who were injured 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.
Troopers questioned the driver, who reportedly told them that she lost control. No charges had been filed.
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 was flanked at the event by 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.”
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.”
Shelby County Schools announced a partnership with SchoolSeed Memphis to raise funds for survivors and their families.
There is nothing more devastating than the loss of a child, and our hearts are broken for the families impacted by the bus accident this morning. We are partnering with @SchoolSeedMEM to collect funds to help the families impacted by this accident. https://t.co/NC6qKWyGRX
— Shelby Co. Schools (@SCSK12Unified) December 3, 2018
Manning said that the tragedy has hit faculty and family members hard as well.
“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.
“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.”
Associated Press reporters Jill Bleed, Adrian Sainz in Memphis and Rebecca Reynolds Yonker in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.
For the latest on this developing story: https://apnews.com/3a75c35f461b4c0e8387d71d78062282