A Community Grieves
Forest Grove comes together to mourn the deaths of two girls hit by motorist
Hundreds gathered quietly in the parking lot of Sonrise Church in Forest Grove Monday night to mourn the death of 6-year-old Anna Dieter-Eckerdt and to pray for her family and for the recovery of her older sister Abigail Robinson.
Forest Grove is a small pond, Pastor Rudy Tinoco told those gathered. When tragedy like this hits, ripples are felt through the whole community.
The two girls were struck by a car just before 8:30 p.m. Sunday, in the 1700 block of Main Street, as they played in a pile of leaves. Anna, a first-grader at Dilley Elementary School, was pronounced dead at the scene. Abby, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Tom McCall Upper Elementary School, was taken by LifeFlight to a Portland hospital, where she died late Monday night.
Police say the vehicle that hit them was traveling southbound though Old Town on Main Street. The driver did not stop and may not have known he or she had hit the two children, said Capt. Mike Herb. The girls may have been hidden in the leaves piled up waiting to be collected. According to neighbors and the police, their father Tom Robinson, was photographing the girls and had briefly stepped inside to put away his camera when his daughters were struck.
Police had located the vehicle by Monday night but were not releasing the drivers name.
The crowd drawn to the Sonrise ceremony included many more than just those who attend church there with the Dieter-Robinson family. Coworkers, family, playmates, friends of all ages and even strangers attended the candlelight prayer service, along with a large contingent of police and firefighters.
This one was really hard, said Fire Marshall Dave Nemeyer. Three of the guys who responded have young kids of their own.
Tinoco asked those gathered to make a point of showing the first responders some love. They take care of us, he said, and they go home to their families, and they are still hurting.
Hugging, wiping away tears, telling each other how they knew the girls and their family, people lit candles, sang and prayed.
They loved to dance, recalled Kelly Martorana, a dance instructor who, with Patty Peterson, has taught the two girls for years. Mondays tap class, she said, was hard with Annas absence. Noting that Abby would have been in class this Friday, she was still holding out hope at the vigil. Im expecting better news by Friday, she said.
That news didnt come.
We didnt know the family, one woman said. We came because we have little ones that age and thought we needed to be here.
Pastor James Gleason delivered a message to the crowd from the girls parents: Tell everyone at Sonrise to go home and hug their children. He said the family is overwhelmed with love, support and prayers. He asked that the prayers continue. They have a long road ahead of them.
The church and community needed to continue their outreach to the family not just the next couple of days, but the next couple of years, Gleason said. It doesnt go away.
The tragedy hit the Forest Grove School District doubly hard. Not only are teachers and staff reeling from the loss of two students, but the girls also are the daughters of coworker and friend Susan Dieter-Robinson, an Adaptive PE Specialist who teaches special-needs children at every school in the district. And, because Abby participated in the popular Community Based Activity Program and Theatre in the Grove, many older students knew her.
In response, district Chief of Staff Connie Potter said, the district activated a team of counselors trained to help students and staff through this kind of situation. Substitutes were available if staff felt like they need to leave or couldnt be in their classrooms for a period of time.
Anna was just a sweetheart of a girl, said Angella Graves, principal at Dilley Elementary School. Very considerate of others. She was a hardworker and an eager learner. Always had a smile on her face, not a care in the world.
As a community, our hearts break for the family, Vanessa Gray, principal at the Forest Grove Community School, wrote in a letter home to parents, many of whom live in the Old Town neighborhood near the public charter school.
On Tuesday, a makeshift memorial continued to grow in front of the districts administration building where the accident happened. People grieving for the family have left cards, flowers, balloons and stuffed animals in the sun under a tree dropping yellow leaves.
The family is completely distraught, said Forest Grove Police Captain Mike Herb. Of the men and women who responded to the scene, he said, Were hanging in there.
These cases are particularly tough for first responders, Herb said. What makes it hard is when you deal with children; what makes it harder is when youre part of a close-knit community. The very thing that makes us connect so well, do our jobs so well, is also the thing that makes dealing with tragedy difficult. It hits home.
I think the police department and the fire department did a real good job, said neighbor Susan Nipp, who brought hydrangeas to the streetside memorial Monday morning. They had two chaplains here. The support was good. Its a pretty small town; some of the police officers have kids of their own.
At Sonrise, knots of people lingered in the church parking lot long after the candles were extinguished, continuing to draw support from each other.
Mike Kay, a youth director at the church, learned of the tragedy that morning through a 5:30 a.m. call from an associate pastor.
Its all a shock right now, he said as he distributed flyers Monday afternoon alerting people to the service Monday.
Were hoping it gives us a chance to show the family how much the community supports them, he said. People want the family to know they are not alone.
Schools scramble to help students deal with loss
Late Sunday night, Dilley Elementary School Principal Angella Graves took a phone call with news no principal wants to receive: one of her students had died.
Monday morning she had the sad task of helping staff and students at Dilley start the process of dealing with the news about first-grader Anna Dieter-Eckerdt, who, along with her 11-year-old sister, Abigail Robinson, was struck by a car outside their Old Town home late Sunday evening..
At Dilley, Monday morning began with a meeting to tell staff and teachers what had happened, and to talk about how to approach the kids with the information.
We had a script, Graves said, but we encouraged them to speak from the heart as well, because they know their students.
The school districts crisis team came to the school and set up safe rooms where students could talk to somebody or process the news about their classmate in a quiet setting.
We told them that Anna died, Graves said, and we are going to be there for her family.
Inside the two first-grade classrooms children spent most of the day making sympathy cards, sharing in their own way their connection with Anna.
This was her first year at Dilley. She already made a lot of friends. She already had 12 best friends in both classes, Graves said. I think it hit those little girls real hard.
The kids shared stories of Anna, or what they heard on the news, or their own stories, maybe about a grandparent who died, Graves said.
The staff did a really nice job of painting a realistic picture but also saying Were going to celebrate Annas life. Any feeling you are feeling is OK.
Annas death affected the entire school. Her mom, Susan Dieter-Robinson, is well known at Dilley, where she teaches adaptive PE. As a parent volunteer, she taught yoga to the two first-grade classrooms to provide calming skills.
A few kids spoke to counselors, Graves said, but by lunch time most had regrouped and were back in class.
The staff, Graves said, is still in disbelief. It really is family.
By Monday afternoon, the Dilley PTO had begun collecting money to help the Dieter-Robinson family. They will accept donations at the annual Dilley Halloween Carnival, from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the school.
People want a way to share their concern and their grief, Graves said. I know the family is really suffering.
Chandra Cooper, principal at Tom McCall Upper Elementary, where Abigail was a student, said that while Abby was still hospitalized Monday, her classmates wrote get-well cards for their friend. Tuesday morning Cooper and counselors went back into the classrooms and shared the news that Abby had died Monday night.
Abby was a very positive, very fun person, Cooper said. She always had a smile on her face and was very outgoing.
One of Coopers favorite memories of Abby, she said, was how much fun she had on stage dancing in the schools recent dance-off.
Abby won the competition.