The Community of Willows Hit With Tragedy

Apr 6, 2011 8:26 PM

Students came to school at Willows High Wednesday morning and were greeted with tragic news. " It's one of those days when you get a phone call early in the morning and you know things are going to be a lot different the they were the day before", said Willows High School Principal Jerry Smith.
Two former students, 20 year old Melissa Ellithorp and 19 year old Nicolina Milani were killed in a car crash late Tuesday night. They were hit head on, on Country Road 99 by 26 year old Erik Ortega from Orland. California Highway Patrol officers say his car drifted into their lane. Ellithorp's 31 year old sister Emily is fighting for her life at Enloe Medical Center. The young ladies were just returning from Melissa's birthday party. Both Melissa and Nicolina, graduated in 2009 and were well liked by classmates. "They were great people, they lived for others they were very giving", said Willows High School student Nolan Barnes.
Melissa's mother is a special education aide at Willows high, and Nicolina's sister and two cousins attend the school. Now, everyone is rallying around them. "All these kids and their parents are part of our family", said Smith.
It's something unfortunately the school is all too familiar with having lost five students since 2006. The school was even the subject of a special article in ESPN Magazine called " The Lost Kids of Willows". " This schools gone through a lot in the last 3 or 4 years and just somebody else, it's just a lot", said Barnes.
And now, they're trying to cope with this latest tragedy with help from counselors from the Glenn County Office of Education and mental health. " Knowing someone, you see them everyday, you say hi to them and then all of a sudden they're gone. It's really hard to move on from that", said Barnes. Principal Smith adds, " We've lost two shining stars. And the community is going to mourn and our campus is hit hard once again".
At this time investigators do not know whether Ortega was under the influence of alcohol or what may have caused his car to veer into the other lane. Funeral arrangements are being made for both girls.


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