Archive for Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Families seek funds for memorial to high school drowning victims

December 19, 2006


— Friends and family of a Labette County High School teacher and three students who drowned in Costa Rica are seeking funds for a memorial garden to be dedicated to them.

Teacher Brett Carlson, 26, and three of his students drowned June 10 while on a Spanish language immersion trip to Costa Rica.

The students, Jessica Pierce, 17, Danielle Tongier, 18, and Andrew Harpstrite, 17, were among a group of 11 students who were swimming off Palo Seco Beach, 180 miles south of San Jose, when some were swept away by strong currents.

Carlson went into the water and was able to save at least two students. Witnesses said Pierce also died trying to save her classmates.

Six months later, the school district is haunted by the tragedy, said Superintendent Dennis Wilson.

"We're still having a tough time dealing with the loss," Wilson said. "I'm not sure we'll ever get over it."

Although the district had never built a memorial, district officials thought it was appropriate in this case because four people died at once and they were on a school trip, Wilson said.

A fund for the garden was established shortly after a memorial service in June in Parsons. Those involved had hoped the memorial garden would be ready before the start of this school year and that any extra money would go into a scholarship fund in Carlson's name.

But the estimated $4,000 cost already has been determined to be low, and only $1,500 has been donated so far.

The Labette County school district reached an agreement on the memorial design Aug. 7, and the district and families are now asking for donations to complete the project.


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