As Lone Grove mourns loss of two teens, mental health expert says 'lean on each other'

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite

As communities in the area continue to mourn the loss of two Lone Grove teenagers last week, mental health experts say the process of grieving will be different for every individual person. The Lone Grove school superintendent says resources will be provided for students and staff but believes a community rally held over the weekend was an important first step to healing.  

Cole Evans, 16, and Jaetyn Cameron, 17, both of Lone Grove, were killed on Thursday morning when their pickup truck crossed the center line on the Chickasaw Turnpike near Sulphur and crashed into a semitrailer, according to police reports. The tragedy struck less than a week before the new school year was set to begin.  

Lone Grove Public Schools Superintendent Meri Jayne Miller said the Lone Grove First Baptist Church on Sunday invited all Lone Grove students to the youth annex for food, games and fellowship. A larger worship gathering was later held for the entire community on the Lone Grove High School campus and included a candlelight vigil and balloon release.  

"Last night was a huge step in helping our students and community move forward," Miller said on Monday. 

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A Lone Grove Strong sign faces traffic on West Broadway Street near the Lone Grove High School campus Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021.

Gina Rodgers, Director of Integrated Care for Lighthouse Behavioral Wellness Centers, said community members can play an important role to help their neighbors grieve. Along with making meaningful connections with those in mourning — a phone call or visit instead of a generic text message — Rodgers said not to expect others to mourn in any one way. 

“Each person has their own individual grief process and we should not try to force our own expectations or our own previous experiences on any one individual of how they grieve or how long they grieve,” said Rodgers. 

With students returning to class on Tuesday, school officials have prepared to help students manage their grief. A funeral for Evans and Cameron was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, and Miller said staff was briefed ahead of the first day of school and all district counselors would be available for additional counseling services at school. 

"We also have additional resources on standby if needed," Miller said. 

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A ribbon hangs from a parking lot light post as Lone Grove High School students arrive to campus for the first day of school Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021.

But while classmates, friends and acquaintances of the two teens may have resources at school, Rodgers said that parents should still talk with their children to help normalize the stages of grief. If someone gets bogged down in any one of those stages, professional help should be sought. 

“There are stages to grief that every person goes through. Those are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, and each person goes through each one of those in their own timeframe and in their own order,” Rodgers said. 

The two stages that people most often get stuck in are anger and depression. Rodgers said anger is typical in teens and can often manifest as frustration or a short fuse for a few weeks. 

“But if they’re so angry that they’re punching the wall or beginning to have physical fights with someone else, that tells us they’re not moving through that stage and they’re kind of stuck there in anger,” she said. 

Teens may experience depression slightly longer than adults, but Rodgers said that tearful episodes are normal. When crying episodes begin to last for most of a person’s waking time or that person begins to isolate from school, work, friends or family, Rodgers said professional resources should be used. 

“Those are all signs that this is no longer a normal grieving process,” she said. 

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While those closest to the two teens will likely be affected most by their deaths, Rodgers reiterated that every individual will handle the experience differently. Some teens who seem resilient may not know how to move through the grief process, while more sensitive teens may accept the tragedies at a faster pace. 

“Generally, it does have to do with their relationship. However oftentimes for children and teens, they feel very connected to individuals whether they had a very deep personal relationship or not,” Rodgers said. 

The school year for the Lone Grove community will be filled with painful moments without Evans and Cameron, but Rodgers said that one of the most important ways to heal and help others heal is by keeping lines of communication open. 

“Lean on each other, truly asking and waiting for the response to ‘how are you doing,’” Rodgers said. 

Lighthouse Behavioral Wellness Centers also has a 24/7 hotline to connect callers with professional counselors at (800) 522-1090.