A 17-year-old student at Holbrook Indian School, a Seventh-day Adventist first- through twelfth-grade school in Arizona, died after a bus transporting students and staff to a field trip was hit by a tractor-trailer on August 28. According to a statement from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the bus was slowing due to a previous collision when it was hit from behind by the truck, pushing the bus into the back of a passenger van.
A statement on the school’s website identified the student as Kiarra Alma Gordon, an eleventh grader, who was pronounced dead at the scene. Speaking to FOX10 Phoenix, Gordon’s aunt described her niece as a teenager who loved sports, movies, and helping with animals on the ranch. “She had a beautiful soul,” Falonna Ashley told FOX10. “She’s from Wide Ruins, a small community on the Navajo Nation. She was focused on education and was thinking about what to do after high school.”
“I am finding it difficult to find the right words to express our grief on the loss of our dear student, Kiarra,” wrote Pedro Ojeda, principal of the school, in a statement online. “She brightened our world. I continue to pray for our students who were injured and for all the students and staff who were on the bus.”
According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, there were 22 occupants when the bus was hit at approximately 9:28 a.m. In addition to the deceased, three sustained critical injuries and were flown to a hospital in Flagstaff, Arizona. According to the school, three more received minor injuries and were released after medical evaluation. “We ask that you would be patient and respectful as we work through this as a school community, and we solicit your prayers on behalf of everyone impacted by this tragedy,” the school said in a Facebook post.
Holbrook Indian School is operated by the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists with a focus on serving Native American students. “Our hearts were broken as we received the tragic news of the death of one of our precious students,” said Bradford C. Newton, president of the Pacific Union Conference, in a statement on Monday. “Our prayers are with each member of the families impacted by the injuries and the loss of life that resulted from the bus accident on August 28. There are no words to express the grief and loss that come from this tragedy. The community of care at Holbrook Indian School is so important to this unique and enduring ministry.”
In 2022, the school celebrated 75 years of operation and has a mission to “provide a safe space for students to learn and grow in the Creator while also preserving and celebrating their Native culture,” according to its website. A majority of the students are from the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American reservation in the United States.
On August 29, Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation, addressed the accident in a press release. “My wife Phefelia and I offer our condolences and prayers for Kiarra’s family, friends, teachers, and loved ones,” he said. “To her mother, Fanassa Ashley, and her grandparents we pray that you take comfort in knowing that your precious daughter and granddaughter is now in God’s kingdom. Our hearts ache for you, your family, and the Holbrook Indian School.”
According to the family, funeral arrangements for Kiarra Gordon are pending, and donations can be sent directly.
Alex Aamodt is managing digital editor and the Roy Branson Investigative Reporter for Spectrum. You can contact him here.
Title image: Kiarra Gordon (photo via the Office of the President and Vice President of the Navajo Nation).
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