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Community grapples with grief after two students die in matter of days

GIG HARBOR, Wash. – A tight-knit Pierce County community is reeling after two young people lost their lives within only days of each other.

The deaths have rocked the Kitsap Peninsula as both teenagers were juniors at Peninsula High School near Gig Harbor.

The school district canceled classes so students and staff could grieve together after 16-year-old Kyle Stillion died Thursday and 17-year-old classmate James Oatridge passed on Sunday.

“Two of these tragedies in this short of time is a tough blow,” said superintendent Rob Manahan.

The rock outside the high school was covered in wishes of love and support for a community that’s been rocked by the unthinkable.

“We’re just giving space and we’re allowing kids just to be with one another and staff with one another,” Manahan said.

Kyle was struck and killed by a car while walking down a road on Thursday and James died Sunday morning when the car he was riding in was struck by another driver.

Child psychologists say younger kids may have the hardest time with grief so complex.

“It’s beyond their ability to not only imagine it but to process of it,” said child psychologist Gregory Jantz. “We may see a lot of anxiety and anxiety looking symptoms coming out of it.”

During tragedies like these, experts say, parents need to beware their own anxieties aren’t absorbed by their children.

Jantz says moms and dads should spend more time with their kids and give them enough time to grieve.

“They’re going to be slower to put the feelings into words, describing it. So we’re going to need to have probably a lot of compassion and empathy and patience,” he said.