A dark day: Tusky Valley community gathers to mourn loss of six who died in I-70 crash

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ZOARVILLE ‒ The Tuscarawas Valley School District had the “wind knocked out of it” Tuesday by the deaths of six students, staff and parents in a crash on Interstate 70 in Licking County, an area pastor said at a prayer vigil Tuesday evening at the high school stadium.

Aaron Rae, pastor of the Bolivar Community Church, talked about spending the afternoon with a young man from his church whose mother died in the crash.

“Then about 4:30 this afternoon, his innocence, his rose-colored glasses that he had of this world were removed when he sat in the living room and heard his dad share the news that Mom would not be coming home anymore. And that’s the news your students heard this morning,” Rae said.

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He then recited the 23rd Psalm. “In Tusky Valley, even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death this evening, I’m encourage that you’ve come to love on each other,” he told the large crowd assembled in the stadium. He closed with a prayer for the community.

Six community members died in the crash

Candles were lighted for the six people who died in the crash ‒ senior John W. Mosely, 18, of Mineral City; senior Jeffrey D. Worrell, 18, of Bolivar; sophomore Katelyn N. Owens, 15, of Mineral City; high school teacher Dave Kennat, 56, of Navarre; parent chaperone Kristy Gaynor, 39, of Zoar; and parent chaperone Shannon Wigfield, 45, of Bolivar, who was a teacher at Buckeye Career Center.

The students and chaperones were on their way to an Ohio School Boards Association conference in Columbus. The high school band was scheduled to perform at the conference.

Deputies from the Tuscarawas County Sheriff’s Office were on hand, as were members of the Bolivar Fire Department and the Fairfield Township Fire Department. Bolivar firefighters hung the U.S. flag from their ladder truck, parked in front of the school complex.

One of the darkest days

Superintendent Derek Varansky described Tuesday as one of the darkest days in Tuscarawas Valley’s history and the worst day in his life.

Twenty students were transported with injuries to five different Columbus hospitals after the crash. As of Tuesday night, 18 of them had been discharged from the hospital and returned to their parents. Two students remained hospitalized with serious, but non-life-threatening injuries, the superintendent said.All of the uninjured students and directors were transported to a local church, where students received care, counseling and reunification began with families. Back in Zoarville, counselors met with middle and high school students to provide support. At the end of the day, staff members met with counselors and Sheriff Orvis Campbell to learn more and grieve, Varansky said.

“Tonight, we’re here at a communitywide prayer vigil to honor those and just lift up those families, those students on the bus who survived and will live with that traumatic experience and to our entire district for the dark days, week, months to come,” he said.

School in session on Wednesday

Varansky said school would be in session on Wednesday, because district officials didn’t want any students home by themselves. “It will not be a typical school day. There will be many counselors and support staff from other community organizations here.”

Earlier in the evening, the village of Zoar opened its community center as a gathering place for those grieving. The main street through town, Ohio 212, was lined with luminaries as a tribute to the lives lost in the crash.