Middle school students in Turlock returned to school on Monday after finding out one of their classmates was killed by a suspected drunk driver over the weekend.
Scott Lucas, Principal of Dutcher Middle School, identified the classmate as 14-year-old Freida Pineda, one of his 8th grade students.
The school brought in a team of extra grief counselors to help Pineda's classmates work through the loss.
“We actually followed (Pineda's) schedule throughout the day," Lucas said.
He went through her schedule to meet with each of her classmates.
"It’s been emotional, seeing our students in such grief, it’s hard to see that," he said. "And staff, staff is taking it very hard too, because she made a connection with both, not only her classmates obviously but her teachers as well, she was a special student."
As students returned to school on Monday morning, they found blue ribbons and sunflowers placed strategically around the school and sadly, an empty desk beside them.
"Anytime a student, a child loses a friend, that’s a really big deal, it’s something they’ll never forget, many times they’ll never forget when they heard about it, and it’ll probably be a memory they’ll have for the rest of their lives," Erin Nelson, executive director of Jessica's House said.
The school called in counselors from across the district, as well as grief counselors working with a therapy dog named Douglas from an organization called Jessica’s House which supports kids through the loss of a loved one.
"They just need to know they're not alone," Nelson said.
It can be overwhelming for many of these teenage students, so the school set a space aside meant for grieving.
"We have a designated area that students can go to anytime, to speak to someone or just have that time out of class," Lucas said.
Erin Nelson, executive director of Jessica's House, said it is important that the students have a place to go to express themselves while they deal with the grief.
"Maybe through art, maybe through music, or games and different ways where they can really talk about the person, share memories and really just be together and know that they're not alone," Nelson said.
Douglas the therapy dog is there too, to listen and hug the students.
"He's a good buffer and he brings a smile to the kids faces so we're just here to be there for them and see what they need and just spend time with them," Nelson said.