Community remembers and mourns 2 teens killed in separate crashes

September 6, 2013 Updated: September 7, 2013 at 6:55 am
photo - A candlelight vigil was held in memory of Calhan students who died at the Calhan Public School in Calhan, CO on Friday, September 6, 2013. (Kent Nishimura, The Gazette)
A candlelight vigil was held in memory of Calhan students who died at the Calhan Public School in Calhan, CO on Friday, September 6, 2013. (Kent Nishimura, The Gazette) 

CALHAN - A close-knit community mourning the loss of two teen-age girls killed in separate car crashes this week came together on the football field Friday night to begin healing.

Students at Calhan School District RJ1 organized a candlelight vigil and released balloons into the night sky in memory of 14-year-old Jae Ellis and 16-year-old Tiffany O'Neill, who died about 14 hours apart in separate car crashes on a same dusty stretch of road about 2.4 miles east of Calhan Highway.

The memorial ceremony was held after a football game against Peyton that Calhan dedicated to Jae's older brother, 16-year-old Jourdan, who was injured in one of the crashes and is recovering in the hospital.

Students made bracelets in the girls' memory and wore t-shirts that said, "Prayin' for Tiffany and Jae and Playin' for Jourdan."

Cheerleader Hayley Ferguson, 17, a senior, said Jae and Tiffany would have wanted their classmates to go on with the game.

Jae was the manager of the football team, and Tiffany was a cheerleader, she said.

"They wouldn't want us not to keep going because they're gone," said Ferguson, who helped organize the memorial.

"We felt that it would help us cope with what was going on, and they were such good kids that they deserved something to remember them by," she said.

Jae died Wednesday night when her brother lost control of a 1994 Saturn traveling east on Funk Road, police said. The Saturn veered off the road and rolled once after hitting a fence.

About 10 a.m. the next morning, Tiffany crashed about 100 feet west of where the siblings wrecked. Tiffany was pronounced dead at the hospital.

"I don't think anybody would expect something so tragic to happen twice in a 24-hour period," Calhan Superintendent Linda Miller said.

Parent April Bajza, who is friends with the Ellis family, said the deaths have brought the community closer together.

"It is very close-knit, and sometimes you don't know how close-knit until you need each other and then they're all there," she said.

Bajza said Jae and Jourdan's grandparents were expected to attend the memorial service.

Jourdan "told them he wanted them here," she said.

Dakota Ackerman, a 16-year-old junior, said students are struggling to understand the tragedy.

"I don't really understand why it happened. I guess things happen for a reason, and God has a plan for all of us," she said.

Ackerman said students have been meeting with grief counselors at school.

"During classes, everyone is just trying to cope with all of it," she said. "It's been really hard, and most people haven't even been paying attention or anything because we just don't understand why."

Tyler Willyard, 15, a sophomore, said students are in disbelief.

"Everybody out here knows everybody," he said. "It hit us hard."

While the community is in mourning, it is also strong and will heal together, Ferguson said.

"We'll be fine because we're a family here," she said.

The two crashes have also raised awareness among students about the dangers of driving, Ferguson said.

"I think it's put that knowledge in our head that we have to be more careful," she said. "With Jae and Tiffany both going within 14 hours of each other, that's pretty serious, so I think people will really think twice. I know yesterday everyone was like, 'Be safe. Be careful with your driving. Come back.'"


Contact Daniel J. Chacon 476-1623

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