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Ryan Johnson, Published December 07 2012

VIDEO: Three days, three student deaths in West Fargo

WEST FARGO – The nearly 1,500 students at West Fargo High School are in mourning after the deaths of three classmates in just three days.

Sophomore Tessa Miller died Wednesday. Her family was keeping her on life support in preparation for organ donation.

The loss prompted officials to issue a call for counselors from neighboring districts to come to the high school Thursday and help students and staff.

Those counselors were back Friday as news reached students of two more deaths – 18-year-old senior Levi Schulz and 16-year-old junior Ian Alves, who both died Friday morning. Alves passed away about 8:45 a.m. after an 18-month battle with two aggressive forms of cancer, while Schulz died of injuries he suffered in a vehicle accident at 7:40 a.m.

“It’s been a really rough week,” said sophomore Taylor Breidenbach.

‘Totally unprepared’

Community Relations Coordinator Heather Konschak said staff and students at the 10th- through 12th-grade school were in “severe grieving mode” Friday as they dealt with Miller’s death and news of the fresh tragedies.

“We really are just trying to have our administrators and the staff there focus on the work of the day, which is trying to get our kids through this emotional time,” she said. “For many of the kids, these emotions are new and foreign. They haven’t had to deal with this, and certainly not in multiples like it has been for us the last two days.”

Konschak said counselors from nearby districts were brought in again Friday to help the West Fargo counseling team see as many students and staff as possible.

“With people still reeling from what we dealt with yesterday and then with the news today, all of our district counselors that were able are there again as well as counselors from Fargo Public Schools,” she said.

Breidenbach said the school’s theater was the host site of counselors Friday, with students packing the room as they sought help for their grief. The sophomore said she grew up with Alves, making the loss particularly hard.

“Tessa and Levi, I mean, we were totally unprepared,” she said. “We knew about Ian, but you just never think that that day is going to come.”

Assistant West Fargo Police Chief Mike Reitan said witnesses reported Schulz, a resident of Horace, N.D., appeared to be walking across Sheyenne Street near the 23rd Avenue South intersection to his disabled car when he was struck by a southbound pickup. The car had a flat tire, he said.

The pickup’s driver, 35-year-old Travis Egerdahl of Fargo, wasn’t injured or cited, Reitan said.

Sheyenne Street was closed from Interstate 94 to 32nd Avenue South while the North Dakota Highway Patrol assisted with accident reconstruction.

The West Fargo Police Department reported shortly after 3 p.m. that Schulz had died, and that he was being kept on life support for organ donation.

Sophomore Austin Walker said he didn’t personally know the three who died this week. But he said the news has been hard on students.

“There are quite a few people who are dealing with a lot of pressure right now,” he said. “I’ve seen quite a few people walking down the hallways and they are having a really hard time. It’s a good thing that we’re all coming together to deal with all the stress.”

Walker said the school notified students Friday morning of the latest two tragedies, dealing new blows to the close-knit student body that was still reeling after the death of Miller.

“People are all trying to comfort each other,” he said. “It’s a terrible loss, but it’s brought us together.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587