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February 19, 2009 09:35 PM

A Journey Of Hope & Healing

Thursday was the one-year anniversary of the Lakeview bus crash near Cottonwood, Minnesota that killed four students and injured several others. 

Those involved will never forget that day.  But instead of mourning their losses, the three families who lost children are remembering the good times. And they're leaning on each other to help them cope. 

A cross stands at the quiet intersection just outside Cottonwood, marked with the names of the children who died there one year ago Thursday. 

Jesse Javens had just turned 13 years old. 

"He was a very kindhearted person, giving and full of life," said his mother, Rita Javens. 

His brother, nine-year-old Hunter Javens, had a twin sister. 

"Imagine somebody on springs, that's Hunter. He'd bounce around the house. He was there for everybody, and now it's so empty. It's hard," Rita Javens said. 

Nine-year-old Emilee Olson loved to play the piano. 

"Her name meant 'beautiful colors in the sky,' and that was what she was. She was all about razzle-dazzle pink and flowers and butterflies," mother Traci Olson said. 

And 12-year-old Reed Stevens was very much a bookworm. 

"I don't think there was a question Reed didn't ask in life; he couldn't learn fast enough. He was sort of wise beyond his years," Reed’s mother, Kandy Stevens, said. 

For the first time, Javens, Olson and Stevens are speaking out about the loss of their children and how they've worked to honor their memory. To commemorate the one-year anniversary, the families worked with Lakeview School to set up a celebration of the kids' lives. 

"Because this was supposed to be a scary day and if we all just forget it, it didn't happen. But we joined forces and kept coming up with ideas," Olson said. 

They've also been working on setting up a foundation to send cards to other Minnesota parents who've lost children. Now, the women are working on a building a "celebration garden" on the school grounds, featuring bright, beautiful flowers and a brick walkway, open for anyone to use. They say it's important to have little reminders. 

"Every month there's going to be some little thing in the school or the community that says, 'This was a special thing about Reed or Jesse or Hunter or Emilee,'" Stevens said. 

The families have also recently put up the cross near the intersection where the crash happened; a place all three women see at least once a day. 

"When I drive through there, the sun is usually going down and truthfully, I look to see if I can find my boys and the other children. I look to see if they're playing; I really think they're playing," Javens said. 

"I haven't gone through. I can't go through that. I have to go across the other way to get to my in-laws, but I don't go through that," Olson said. 

The families can't change what happened that day, so they've decided to focus on the good memories and things about Reed, Jesse, Hunter and Emilee that made them smile.  Each mother has had a dream about her child, so vivid each says it was like the kids were back. 

"He was sitting on the couch, I was doing laundry, and I said, 'Reed! Let's go!' And he told me he couldn't. And there was some peace to that," Stevens said. 

"He walked through, gave me a kiss and a hug, then walked away. Hunter bounced through, gave me a hug and a kiss. Neither one said anything to me, but I got a hug and a kiss," Javens said. 

"Mine with Emilee was that the police brought her back to me. I'd been running around looking for her and they brought her back to me," Olson said. 

For the Stevens, Javens, and Olson families, Thursday wasn’t just the anniversary of their children's deaths; it's a day to celebrate their lives, and with the help of others, keep their memories alive. 

"This is a journey we will always be on. We don't have a choice to stop mourning, so we choose to get up and make it the best day we can," Stevens said. 

Olga Franco, the woman who caused the accident, is now serving 13 years in prison. 

To donate to the Not 4Gotten Foundation, email

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