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Midvale Journal

Classmates, school, district provide support with Hillcrest students’ deaths

May 07, 2018 12:41PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High classmates, family members and friends released balloons with messages for two students who died in a car accident during a candlelight vigil at Falcon Park in Sandy. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Splashed in the news are photos of the single car rollover in Arizona during spring break that took the lives of two Hillcrest High School juniors. But quietly behind the headlines are classmates, counselors and the district crisis team providing support for their friends and families.

“We want to reach out and offer our help and support,” Canyons School District Director of Responsive Services BJ Weller said. “We come to schools during crises and see the needs, offer support and counseling if it’s more than the schools can handle with their staff and follow up with the families and students who sought counseling.”

Carson Glen Koch and Brayden Eaton, both 17-year-olds from Sandy, died April 7 when their car veered off Interstate 15 and rolled between Mesquite, Nevada and St. George as they were returning home. Both were instantly killed, according to a GoFundMe account set up by Carson’s mother, Jody Koch. She added that Brayden’s mother had just died the week earlier from liver failure. 

“It is a tragedy beyond words,” she wrote.

Jordan High School junior Autumn Perry, who attended Union Middle School with both of them, said that Carson was outgoing and on the stage crew with the school musical.

“He was super funny. I attended a different elementary school and he came up to me in seventh grade and said, ‘Hey you seem cool, let’s talk’ and we kept talking all through middle school. Brayden was so sweet and even though she was shy, she saw me all alone and came up and talked to me,” Autumn said, adding that she recently had seen Brayden and had caught up.

Riverton junior Jillian Westenskow said she was Brayden’s best friend.

“Brayden was happy all the time,” she said. “She’s sweet and very pretty. She liked to be adventurous, like exploring abandoned houses. She liked hanging with her boyfriend.”

Jillian said that the two had been dating for 16 months and that Carson loved basketball.

The GoFundMe site said that both were good students. Carson earned his Eagle Scout, was an umpire and referee for Sandy City and had a part-time job. Brayden, who was living with her grandmother and younger sister, was trying to help support herself and sister by working a part-time job as well as attending Hillcrest.

West Jordan High junior Ariana Isais had worked with Brayden.

“She always made me smile and we instantly were friends. I met Carson once. He made Brayden really happy and was making jokes in the car,” she said.

Weller said that after a Hillcrest counselor alerted the district about the accident on the weekend, he and his response team met with administrators and counselors early Monday morning to determine the best approach for the teachers and student body. They told teachers before school Monday and in some classes, teachers told students and in others, counselors took the role to inform the classes.

“It’s best not to make a general announcement, but to be able to see students’ reactions and offer them counseling and follow up with them,” he said.

Weller also said the staff filled in to tell classes where there were substitute teachers.

“It was hardest when both kids were in the same class,” he said, adding that in some cases, the response team will help schools that need additional grief counselors, usually in middle and elementary schools, since those schools don’t have as many staff.

Weller said that with the recent house bill 264 passing — elementary school counselor program – there will be more funding to provide services to students. He already is interviewing a couple of additional counselors for the elementary schools in the district.

Canyons School District spokesman Jeff Haney said that the day was “admittedly difficult.”

“When a tragedy like this happens, students often have a lot of questions. We’ve found they also experience grief in different ways,” he said.

Principal Greg Leavitt was with Hillcrest’s Vocal Ensemble as they were about to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City when they all learned the news. 

“They were Husky Strong and pulled it together to perform beautifully,” he said, adding that the school traditionally sends flowers for funeral services.

Although these are the first student deaths in the district for the school year, Weller said it’s hard anytime there is a death at a school.

Early this school year, Hillcrest High’s football coach Cazzie Brown died four days after becoming sick from a viral infection, later said to have been West Nile Virus. The students have rallied around his memory this year and his belief of “one pack, one goal.”

Likewise, students are supporting the memories of Carson and Brayden. Hillcrest junior Becca Palmatier is making a video of happy memories for the families. A tweet from the student body officers encouraged students to wear green in support and sign banners at lunch in memory of Carson and Brayden to give to their families.

Students also gathered at a candlelight vigil April 11 at Falcon Park in Sandy in their honor where they wrote messages to their classmates on balloons before releasing them, “blew bubbles to heaven,” and signed posters for the families.

Brayden’s childhood friend, Sage Peck, was amongst the supporters.

“I knew Brayden all my life,” she said. “She helped me through a lot. It’s nice to have someone to talk to. She was involved in everything and Carson was a good guy who treated her well.”

Canyons School District provides support for students and families through car and plane accidents, shootings, suicides and other deaths, Weller said.

“Our job first is to establish safety and support and then, if long-term therapy is needed, we can provide resources,” he said. “Often, students and families don’t show up the first day, but our counselors are ready and we take it case by case to help them.”