To help the Lake Township community cope with the traffic-accident death of a 16-year-old girl, RiverTree Christian Church opens the church to offer grief counseling.
LAKE TWP. Perhaps Orik was not cognizant of why he was in RiverTree Christian Church Tuesday, but the Bernese mountain dog had a part in helping a grief-stricken community try to cope with the unexpected death of Lake High School student Macie Behringer.
The church, located in the 2200 block of Lake Center Street NW, opened its doors to offer students and adults a serene place to contemplate the loss of the 16-year-old girl who was killed in a two-vehicle crash Tuesday morning while she was driving to school.
"We have opened the door to other churches to counsel," said Kelli Viscounte, outreach director at the church. "Everyone is still in shock right now. We are just here for support."
Orik is a therapy dog who was brought to the church by Nancy Turner, a guidance counselor at Uniontown Elementary, a school within Lake Local School District.
"The kids that were here earlier just plopped right down with him," Viscounte said.
Staff ministers of the church joined Lake Local faculty and officials to provide support to the grieving. Baked goods and other snacks were available to the public.
Behringer, 16, who was a Jackson Township resident, participated in varsity cheerleading and gymnastics at Lake High.
Overcoming the deep feelings of grief associated with Behringer's death "is just going to take time," Turner said.
One Lake Local official, Karen Koch, recalled recently looking at a photograph of Behringer that was taken at a gymnastics event.
"I was just looking at that photo yesterday," said Koch, Lake Local public relations officer who appeared to be holding back tears. "They were all in their pretty gymnastics uniforms."
Church officials did not want a reporter to interview any Lake High students who may have dropped in Tuesday. The word that was most mentioned to described the mood of the students was "shock."
"They are shocked at the quickness of it," said Isaac Smaglinski, student ministry director at the Lake Township RiverTree Christian Church. "They are just trying to find a way to deal with things."
Behringer was not a member of this church. But the church leadership still felt compelled to host the event to help the community wrestle with the grief linked to the girl's death.
Behringer was on her to graduating at the end of this academic year.
"She was graduating early," Koch said. "I think she as taking accelerated classes."
One church staff member, Leah Pursley, said she has two sons enrolled at Lake High School.
"I think they are in shock," said Pursley, missional communities pastor. "It is hard for them to see so much grief at the high school"
Church staff members said they were prepared to spend the night at RiverTree to be available for anyone who might need some grief counseling late in the evening.
A key element in coping with the grief, according to Viscounte, is "just to stay connected with each other."
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"I think they are in shock," Leah Pursley said. "It is hard for them to see so much grief at the high school."
"She was graduating early," Karen Koch said. "I think she was taking accelerated classes."