By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
ASBURY, Mo. —
Monday was to be Carl Junction High School graduate Abby Washburn’s first day back to classes at Saint Louis University after Christmas break. She never made it.
On Saturday afternoon, Abby, 19, her two sisters, who attend Carl Junction schools, and their parents were hit head-on in their 2006 Chevy TrailBlazer by a driver headed west in an eastbound lane of Interstate 44 near Sarcoxie in Jasper County.
Abby’s father, John Washburn, 58, and the driver of the other vehicle, Bonnie Weaver, 75, of Tulsa, Okla., died in the crash. Abby, her mother, Deborah, and sisters, Samantha, 13, and Karli, 12, were seriously injured and were taken to Freeman Hospital West in Joplin.
Thousands of friends and strangers have offered prayers on a Facebook page, “Pray for the Washburns,” that was set up by a family member. By Tuesday, the page had generated more than 6,300 “likes” and comments by subscribers from across the U.S.
No member of the extended family was available for comment for this report. According to the Facebook page’s updates, Deborah and her daughters all suffered broken pelvic bones and ribs.
“Thank you again for praying for the family. They love you all and appreciate your prayers more than anything,” one of the most recent posts said. Another asked for prayers for the survivors’ upcoming surgeries and recovery, and for “the family of the elderly lady who also passed away in the accident.”
According to the page’s updates, Karli, a sixth-grader at Carl Junction Intermediate School, was suffering from a blood flow problem in a leg. She was transferred to the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City for surgery. Samantha, an eighth-grader at Carl Junction Junior High, had two broken legs and blood on her brain, and she also was transferred to KU Medical Center for surgery.
Carl Junction School District spokeswoman Tracie Skaggs said Tuesday that she had seen both girls on Saturday when she was stranded in Kansas City because of ice-covered roads. After learning of the accident, she visited them at the medical center.
Abby, who graduated from Carl Junction High School in May 2012, is a freshman at Saint Louis University, where she plans to major in biomedical engineering.
David Pyle, the principal at Carl Junction High School, said the family is on the minds of those who attend and work at the school, and who knew Abby as a student there.
“Abby was a model student here, very academically talented, and graduated in the top 10 percent of her class,” he said Tuesday. “She was especially talented in area of music, very involved in band and vocal music, and was a member of our jazz choir. She has a lot of friends and people at the school thinking of the family and praying for them right now.”
Like his daughter Abby, John Washburn, who owned three Gringos restaurants in the area, attended Carl Junction High School. He graduated in the class of 1972. In 2010, he purchased his dream motorcycle, and in February 2012, he and Deborah, a pharmacist at Walgreens in Joplin, took the trip of a lifetime to Hawaii.
“Everyone is just devastated — the teachers she has, along with teachers she’s had in recent years. Anyone who has come into contact with the family feels heartbroken and helpless,” said Gretchen DeMasters, Karli’s principal, on Tuesday afternoon.
She said staff members and students, who were out of school Monday because of a power outage, were trying to turn their feeling of helplessness into action when they resumed classes on Tuesday.
“Counselors met with the sixth grade as a whole before class,” DeMasters said. “They gathered in the gymnasium, and counselors cleared their schedule to make themselves available at any time to any student who needed them.”
The students and staff members are planning three fundraising activities to benefit the family, including a penny war that begins today, a pajama day in coming weeks and a family game night in the near future. All proceeds will go to the Washburns.
“I’ve had several parents that have called with ideas for fundraisers, because they know it will be a long road to recovery,” DeMasters said. “We’ll raise as much as we can, for whatever they need in the future.
“I was very proud of our kids. They’ve handled it well, and I think it shows the parents have done a good job talking to them about it. Some are upset, but I could tell that families had really addressed this at home over the weekend.”
KEN ANSLEY, pastoral care minister at Christ’s Church of Oronogo, said ministers from the church have visited the Washburns at hospitals in Kansas City and Springfield. The Washburns have been members of the congregation for many years, he said. This week, the family has been a part of the church’s prayer tree and prayer list.
“THE CHURCH IS TRYING to minister the whole family as best we can,” Ansley said. “We’ve been involved with them since the accident happened, and it’s going to be a matter of staying involved for many months.”