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Notre Dame Academy students mourn classmate

Maria Schaffstein (Source: Notre Dame Academy) Maria Schaffstein (Source: Notre Dame Academy)
Students wrote on the sidewalk at Notre Dame in honor of eight students involved in a car accident Students wrote on the sidewalk at Notre Dame in honor of eight students involved in a car accident

PARK HILLS, KY (FOX19) - Notre Dame Academy students returned from Spring Break Monday, mourning the loss of one of their classmates.  

Maria Schaffstein, 17, of Park Hills, was killed in an automobile crash Friday outside of Huntsville, Ala., while seven of her classmates were injured. The group was returning from a Spring Break trip. All of the girls were seniors.

The school has held numerous prayer services since the accident, and a public prayer service will be held Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m.

"We held a school-wide prayer service this morning to begin the healing process as a group," said Tessa Taylor, a personal counselor at NDA.

Taylor said grief counselors will be at the school the rest of the week.

The accident happened Friday afternoon in Athens, Alabama, near Huntsville.  Investigators say the driver, Katie Russo, 17, of Park Hills, was trying to pass a semi when she lost control and rolled her SUV several times. 

Russo and three others, Megan Berberrich, 18, of Fort Wright, Megan Downing, 18, of Fort Mitchell, and Jordan Zumdick, 18, of Fort Wright, were treated and released from an Alabama hospital.  Catie Ammerman, 17, of Florence, was released from the hospital Sunday.  Jessie Russo, 17, of Park Hills and Krista Noll are both still in the hospital.

Notre Dame Academy President Sister Shauna Bankemper said that Berberrich, Downing, Zumdick, Ammerman and Katie Russo are all home. Noll remains in serious condition with several broken bones and Jessie Russo is still in critical condition at an Alabama hospital.

Taylor said that roses were placed on the desks of all eight girls in all their classes.

"We know that we're still thinking of them, we're still praying for them, they are still in our hearts even though they are not here with us," said Taylor.

"All of our students are shocked," said Emily Cooney, Student Council President at NDA. "You never expect this."

Funeral arrangements have been set for Schaffstein. Visitation is Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Mass will be Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Everything will take place at St. Agnes Church. Father Brian Wigger, who is chaplain of Notre Dame Academy and associate pastor of St. Agnes Church, will lead the services. Father Wigger is expected to be joined in the Mass celebration by Bishop Roger J. Foys; Father Mark Keene, pastor of St. Agnes; and other priests of the diocese

School will be dismissed at 11 a.m. Thursday so Notre Dame students may attend the funeral.

"Maria has touched so many people in her short 17 years," said Sister Bankemper. "They (Maria's family) hope her funeral will be a celebration of her life and they're counting on that."

"I think Maria would be smiling down on us," said student Amy Beishel. "She was the kind of girl who had friends from all walks of life. Everyone in the school loved her."

Cooney said the senior class has bonded together in this tragedy.

"We have a strong class and a really tight class, and I think this is really going to try our class, but we've already come together, and we're going to get through this," said Cooney.

 Curtis Summerville, and Alabama State Trooper, says only two of the girls - the driver and front seat passenger, Megan Berberrich - were wearing a seatbelt. They were the only two who weren't ejected from the vehicle.

Sister Bankemper was quick to point out the girls were responsible students who called a parent every night during their trip.

"It was an accident and had nothing to do with Spring Break," said Bankemper. "Accidents happen in life."

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