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Kindness, care help bind wounds of Palisades tragedy

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO SALLY WILLIS, This banner signed by hundreds of Lakeridge High School students reflected the widespread sympathy throughout the community after the death of 11-year-old Austin Sergeev, a student at Palisades Elementary School. The banner is still hanging at Lakeridge’s main entrance.

Austin Sergeev must have been a remarkable little boy.

That became apparent from the outpouring of grief that followed his shocking death from a freak accident while playing flag football on Oct. 14.

But the 11-year-old fifth grader also came from a remarkable place. The Palisades Elementary School community has been the heart of a reaction to the tragedy that, amazingly, has networked across not only Lake Oswego but the entire nation.

'We couldn't help in the way we wanted to help,' said Audrey Monroe, president of Palisades Adults Leadership. 'Which is bring this child back to life. We are doing what we can.'

That has proven to be a lot. Aside from Austin's immediate family, including his mother Sandy Ivanov and his grandparents, it is the mothers of Palisades children - especially the classmates and friends of Austin -who have taken the tragedy most to heart. Their tears come very easily.

'This is all so raw and fresh for us,' said Camille Walker, a next door neighbor of Austin's family. 'There has been such a fog.'

Of course, what happened is still unbelievable.

Karen Dawson said, 'I talked to Austin's mom and she said he was so happy that day. My son said that Austin was having a great time. He had scored two touchdowns.'

'Austin was such a fun-loving little boy,' said Michelle Hausmann, who lives across the street from Austin's home. 'You could hear him laughing and hollering down the street.'

But these mothers emerged from the stunning grief over Austin's death. They started weaving a fabric of healing that not only eased the pain but created stronger bonds for the Palisades community.

One source of strength came from the traditional Russian service held at Young's Funeral Home in Tigard.

'Austin's family arranged everything so we would be involved,' said Kathleen Berry, a close friend of Sandy Ivanov. 'They arranged for the service to be translated into English.'

Later, Berry observed, 'The procession from the funeral service was as far as the eye can see. People were pulling off of the road and crying. It was one of the most moving things I've ever seen.'

Palisades people followed through on their emotions. Classmates like Brian Hausmann, who composed a letter in Austin's honor and had his mother Michelle read it at the funeral service.

'He wrote right from the top of his heart,' Michelle said.

Truly impressive was the way the community served the needs of the family. Sally Willis requested that her home church, Lake Oswego United Methodist Church, open its facilities for a reception. Agreement was immediate, and along with fellow moms Dusty Johnson and Leanne Mann, Willis set up an event that served food to more than 300 people for four hours.

The bounty of caring quickly overflowed the boundaries of Austin's family. Camille Walker said she was amazed that people brought food and flowers right to her door.

'Who was I to receive this?' she said, tearing up at the memory.

Caring and concern came from far and wide after stories about Austin appeared on CNN and national radio programs.

'We had been in such a bubble,' Monroe said. 'When we heard about it we were just amazed.'

The remarkable reaction to this event, bringing hope out of tragedy, causes a question to arise: Is this something that happens at every school where a young child is lost? Or is there something special about the Palisades Elementary community?

'It's the community. That's why we moved here,' Willis said. 'Even without this tragedy, you can feel the warmth that is here.'

This warmth will continue for Austin's family. Berry has set up a schedule for community members to provide them food in the coming days, and Monroe said the mothers want to provide the family with whatever it needs; whether it is a pizza or a card of condolence.

'One thing we can do is record acts of love as time passes,' Monroe said.