By Donna Thornton/News Editor
When students return to Mitchell Elementary School from spring break Monday (March 31), Principal Roger Wilkinson said there will be counselors and clergy members on hand to talk to students about the tragic loss of two classmates.
In addition to counseling for those who need it, Wilkinson said there will be as normal a school routine as possible, something that may help with the healing process as well.
Kobe and Xander Barksdale, along with their mother Katrina Vinzant Barksdale, their cousin Seth McDuffie and Gadsden businessman Jimmy Hill were aboard a small plane that crashed on March 22 into a reservoir near Montrose, Colo.
Crews in Ouray County, Colorado planned begin recovery efforts early on Thursday (March 27) with hopes of bringing the plane out of the reservoir in Ridgway State Park by afternoon.
Impromptu memorials were held the day after the crash at Mitchell and at Westbrook Christian Academy, where McDuffie was in the 8th grade.
Wilkinson said there was discussion of having a memorial for Kobe and Xander the day students return to class, but after consulting with counselors and the teachers from the boys classes, it was decided that it would be better for students to deal with the tragedy in a small group setting.
Wilkinson said, unfortunately, he’s lost a student each year in his last five years as an administrator. Those experiences have shown him that getting students into their school routine is beneficial.
“It doesn’t do them any good to dwell on it,” Wilkinson said.
Mitchell Elementary School teacher Ann Smith said it was best that children had days out of school after learning of the tragedy.
“They were able to be home with their families this week,” Smith said, “and that was best.”
Wilkinson said in addition to counselors from Mitchell and other Gadsden elementary schools being available to students on Monday, the pastor and youth pastor from Bellevue Baptist Church and the youth pastor from Dwight Baptist plan to be there for students.
And the school plans to remember Kobe and Xander with a balloon release on Thursday afternoon.
“We’re going to take our second and fourth grade classes out to the soccer field and let them release balloons,” Wilkinson said. “If they want to write messages to go with their balloons they’ll have a chance to do that.”
At Westbrook Christian Academy, Administrator Cindy Greer said school officials will wait until the family of eighth-grader Seth McDuffie can make funeral arrangements to plan a memorial for him.
“It’s been a rough week for our school family,” Greer said. She said there will be time Monday when students can meet with teachers and counselors and small groups and students and staff will meet in chapel time to reflect and pray together.
“Seth was an amazing young man,” Greer said. “He was smart, respectful and full of laughter. He loved people and loved to make them laugh.
“He was extremely well mannered and always put others before himself. Seth loved the Lord and even led the closing prayer in our last middle school chapel last Thursday,” she said. “He will truly be missed.”
Katrina Barksdale was remembered by friends as outgoing and athletic — a young woman full of life.
Jimmy Hill was owner of Gadsden Tool and Airport Cafe, and was in his second year as president of the Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Board. He’s been described as a true leader in the community, and a humble man.
Hill was honored as Professional of the Year last year by Darden Rehabilition Center for his commitment to giving disabled people job opportunities at both of the businesses he owned.
There had been no announced funeral plans for any of those presumed dead in the crash. Until the plane and the bodies inside it are recovered, Colorado authorities have not released identifications of those in the crash. Ridgway State Park has been closed since the crash, while efforts to recover the plane continued.
According to published reports, the 1996 model plane left the Northeast Alabama Regional Airport on March 22, stopping in Bartlesville, Okla., then heading on toward Montrose, Colo.
That afternoon, witnesses reported seeing the plane in a “flat spin” crash into the reservoir. According to Ouray County officials, the single engine Socata TBM700 came to rest upside down at the bottom of the reservoir at a depth of about 6o feet, in two or three feet of silt.
The altitude of the reservoir (68,000 above sea level), the depth of the water and the weather made recovery efforts difficult, a dive expert said during a press conference earlier this week.