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Lakewood Ranch High set for ‘great outpouring’ for accident victims

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Local school officials predict there will be a ‘great outpouring’ at Lakewood Ranch High School on Tuesday on behalf of Josh Rogers and Brett Wagner, the seniors who died in a Christmas night crash on State Road 64.

Officials know the emotions will be intense when school resumes after Christmas break Tuesday, but are not exactly sure what form the outpouring will take, said Pat Bernhard, supervisor of student services for the Manatee County School District.

“We try to make a response that will meet the need,” said Bernhard, who will especially be watching Monday to see if some students show up at the school a day early, knowing teachers report a day early. “We will see what happens Monday. If kids are coming to the school to talk that tells us a lot,” Bernhard added.

Bernhard is in charge of the nine eight-person crisis teams assembled by the district. She confirmed one team, made up of counselors, psychologists and social workers, will report Tuesday to Lakewood Ranch High.

“There is no right or wrong way to do this,” Bernard said. “Kids will have questions. They may have done their grieving since Christmas and just want the opportunity to express feelings. Teachers need to express feelings, also.”

The crisis team will follow the schedule of classes of both Josh and Brett on Tuesday, offering both students and teachers a chance to talk, Bernhard added.

“I feel the expression is going to be a great outpouring on behalf of these students,” school district spokesperson Margi Nanney said when asked what Tuesday might bring. “It is hard to say exactly what will happen, but we will be prepared for whatever we need to do to get everyone through this.”

Tom Zellars, Lakewood Ranch High’s assistant principal, wept openly earlier this week when talking about Josh and Brett.

“I am devastated,” Zellars said. “They were both great guys. Both had big hearts and loved life. They were very caring, very willing to do anything for anyone. To have two students gone in a moment is hard enough for an adult to comprehend. But think of how it is for students?”

Zellars said that when Lakewood Ranch High’s teachers report back to work Monday, they will discuss what they feel is the best way to support students.

The numbers of students who have been impacted by the deaths is great.

More than 300 students packed the parking lot of Blake Medical Center both Monday and Tuesday during Josh’s two-day battle for life, his family reported.

“They brought flowers and cards and I was moved by how well-mannered they were,” said Angela Brown, Josh’s aunt.

Roughly 200 attended an impromptu roadside memorial for Brett at the intersection of S.R. 64 and Rye Road at dusk Monday and a crowd estimated at 200 attended a prayer vigil for Brett and Josh at Myakka Family Worship Center later Monday night.

On Tuesday, a bonfire memorial for the boys at Myakka Family Worship Center drew 200.

More than 1,000 are expected to attend the boys’ combined “Celebration of Life” service at noon Saturday at Bayside Community Church, 15800 S.R. 64 E.

At this point in the grief process, some students might be searching for answers, Bernhard said.

“At some time there is a need to start talking about taking positive action to make sense out of what just happened,” Bernhard said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.