Killingly School District lost two students and an assistant principal over the holiday weekend.
The first day back from winter break was spent comforting and consoling teachers and students.
“We're devastated," said Killingly Intermediate School Principal Heather Taylor.
Taylor said her students and staff were reeling at the loss of two beloved members of their school family. Longtime assistant principal Steve Tagen, 68, was found dead of natural causes in his home on Monday.
“He is certainly the veteran administrator in the entire district. He always saw the child before the student," she recalled.
Emma Adams, who spent her middle school years Killingly Intermediate, lost her battle with brain cancer on Friday.
“Emma just had a contagious smile. She cared very deeply for many of our staff," said Taylor.
Taylor said Emma loved animals and recently took a trip to Florida with her family to swim with dolphins.
The district also lost 16-year-old Ryan French on Monday. State Police said he struck a railroad bridge abutment while driving on Interstate 395 around 11:30 am. The cause of the crash was still under investigation Tuesday.
French, who ran on the cross-country team, was also a member of the Agriculture Education Program at Killingly High School. He was interested in natural resources, according to teacher Ken Couture.
Couture described French as, “a really great kid who would step up when you needed some help.” French, a junior, was also an alternate representative for the District's Board of Education, which allows students to give input at board meetings. Interim Superintendent Lynne Pierson said only two seniors and two juniors are chosen for the prestigious positions.
Pierson said counselors would be available to staff members, students, and their families as long as necessary.
“In a small community like Killingly, where there is great heart, there’s closeness. People are related to each other, they know each other, they’re neighbors, friends. Children have attended school together for years. So, it makes it more touching and difficult. The impact is felt well beyond the walls of the schools," she explained.
Taylor said many students in her school made cards and created artwork for Tagen's family to express their own grief about his passing.
“Many people just sought out Mr. Tagen some of them on a daily basis simply for comfort and support, and he would stop whatever he was doing and provide that with no judgment," Taylor explained. " He has formed bonds with every single student who has passed through these walls, and every single faculty member both young and old. He will be missed.”
Both the boys and girls high school basketball games scheduled for Tuesday night were postponed.