Tragic bus accident that killed Pelican student was a decade ago; classmates pay tribute with annual gathering to create blankets for ‘Project Linus’

Creating blankets, in memory of Jessica Weishair, a classmate who was killed in a tragic bus accident almost precisely ten years ago.
Front Row: Brooke Weishair, Chantel (Stout) Cossette, Katie (Pfeifle) Klovstad, Brittany (Honrud) Colbert, Emily (Dahl) Welder
Back Row: Kendra Coleman, Kasey Gothier, Michaela Gray, Melissa Bakken, Kaitlin Sillerud, Sean Fitzsimmons, Bianca Schleske, and Alyssa Colosky. Volunteers not pictured: Wendy Hoadley, Barb Ripley, Cindy Hoyer

Ten years after a tragedy that touched an entire community–and beyond–the death of a Pelican Rapids teenager in 2008 is a memory few will ever forget.

Classmates of Jessica Weishair, who died in a bus accident a decade ago, gather annually for a session that’s bittersweet; yet productive and meaningful.

“As we move forward with our lives, we wonder where she would be with hers,” said Michaela Gray, a classmate when a bus carrying dozens of Pelican Rapids band students crashed near Albertville.

Several youth were injured; Jessica Weishair died.

April 5 will be the tenth anniversary of that painful date.

For the past six years, a number of Pelican Rapids High School classmates from the late 2000s have made blankets –as a tribute to Jessica. The project is also a form of therapy for the young women, who are still haunted by the tragedy, and the loss of their beloved classmate.

The first year, in 2012, the group made 13 blankets. In 2014, they made 8; in 2015, 10 blankets; and in 2016, 10 blankets.

The crew hit a record in February, 2018, creating 18 blankets. “Project Linus,” is the recipient of the blankets, which are distributed nationally through the non-profit.

As Michaela Gray explains, the Project Linus blankets go to emergency medical crews, police departments and other relief agencies. The blankets are then on standby, to be given to individuals who have experienced tragedy of some kind. Cancer units and homeless shelters also stock
Project Linus blankets.

It is a “pay it forward” gesture, as Project Linus gave the Pelican Rapids schools 100 blankets following the 2008 bus accident.

Jessica, the daughter of Kim and Stacey Weishair, had just turned 16 when she was killed April 5, 2008. She was the lone fatality when a charter bus filled with Pelican Rapids High School band students left the road and crashed on I-94.

When the local crew first started making blankets in 2012, most of the young women were in college. Fifty-nine blankets later, the women have grown into careers and households–mothers, bankers, physical therapists, nurses…

All of them proceeding with their lives.

But not Jessica.

“It is very hard for us. We all sit back and think about where Jessica would be right now; what she would have done,” said Gray. “We all know that, whatever she chose, she would be fantastic at it.”

Jessica may have found a career working with children. “She loved kids…she loved life,” said Gray.

She may have been a nurse. “That’s where I imaged she would be because of her compassion,” said Gray, who earned a degree in social work and is with Lutheran Social Services.

Ten years have gone by since the tragedy.

“Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday…sometimes, it feels like a lifetime ago.”

It is probably reasonable to speculate that many of those students–and adults–experienced post traumatic stress disorder, in some form.

“It’s hard to know what being a normal teenager would be like. This happened when we were 14 to 17 years old,” said Gray, of the dozens of high school band members that experienced or witnessed the accident.

“It’s crazy because everybody had their  own individual experience–whether they were on the bus that crashed, or on the second bus that watched it happen and felt helpless,” recalled Gray.

Also, she added, there were the fellow students and classmates, not part of the band trip, who experienced it back at home.

“Whether physically hurt or not, everyone has damage in some form from that day,” said Gray.

“When April 5 comes around–It’s always a hard day.”

The local team has worked with the Eastern North Dakota Chapter of Project Linus.

The Pelican Project Linus effort has been a direct “pay it forward” gesture, in a very real and tragic situation. In 2012, the team made blankets Thanksgiving weekend. The Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting took place within weeks, in December 2012. Also, Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast at the end of October in 2012. “The North Dakota Project Linus chapter disclosed that our blankets were being shipped out to the victims of one of these tragedies,” said Gray. “It was extremely bittersweet to hear that our very first blankets were immediately going to a tragedy. We all knew how comforting it would be for the children to receive them. Since then we have donated the blankets anonymously.”

The drop off station for the Project Linus blankets is JoAnn Fabrics in Fargo.

About Project Linus

Project Linus National Headquarters is located in Belton, Missouri. Project Linus chapters are located across the United States. With chapters in all 50 states, Project Linus continues to grow. Blankets are collected locally and distributed to children in hospitals, shelters, social service agencies, or anywhere that a child might be in need of a big hug.

Objectives of Project Linus:

• Provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new, handmade blankets and afghans, lovingly created by volun- teer “blanketeers.”

• Provide a rewarding and fun service opportunity for interested individuals and groups in local communities, for the benefit of children.