LORETTO, Tenn. — Students, parents and members of the Loretto community stopped in at the high school library Thursday morning, comforting each other and praying with each other as they remembered two students killed in a traffic accident Wednesday night.
“I went to the library (Wednesday night), a lot of people were coming in after church. The library was full,” Loretto junior Matt Rosson said. “We shared memories, and our football team chaplain was there and he led everyone in prayer.”
On Thursday morning as the night’s tragedy began to hit home, family, friends and classmates remembered the lives of Rianna L. Watson and Tanna L. Pesnell.
Lawrence County schools were out this week for fall break and friends said the girls, both 17 years old, high school seniors and best friends, had just returned home from a trip to the beach with Watson’s parents.
Tennessee Highway Patrol reports indicate Watson was driving her 2002 Envoy west on Old Florence-Pulaski Road, north of Loretto, when the accident happened just after 6 p.m. Troopers said Watson’s car apparently traveled across the center line and struck a 2003 Freightliner cargo truck hauling dog food. Friends said Watson was taking Pesnell home when the accident occurred.
Troopers said Watson was killed in the crash and Pesnell was critically injured and flown to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville.
Dalya Qualls, with the Tennessee Highway Patrol in Nashville, said Pesnell, who was crowned Loretto High School’s homecoming queen two weeks ago, died at the hospital.
Loretto Principal Jennifer Littleton said the high school library opened at 10 a.m. Thursday for anyone who wanted to grieve together.
“We didn’t have as many today as we did last night,” Littleton said. “But throughout the morning, people came in and talked, shared stories of the girls and prayed together.
“We just felt it was important for friends and family to be together at this time, and the school was the best place for them to come and comfort each other.”
Throughout the day Thursday people who knew the girls shared thoughts and photos on a special tribute page on Facebook.
“This has been one of the hardest days of my life,” one friend wrote on the memorial page. “You two girls were two of the finest ladies in LawCo; always smiling, always helping others, always in a great positive attitude. I still can’t grasp the fact that y’all are gone.”
Another post stated “I love y’all so much & I have thanked God all day for the times I had with you girls because it was truly a blessing.”
Rosson was good friends with the both girls.
“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with,” he said. “It’s different than having to deal with the death of a family member. It’s just hard to accept and deal with. You can tell yourself you will be prepared, but you never know how you will react.”
Rosson, the quarterback on the high school football team, said he plans on dedicating the rest of the football season to the memory of his two friends.
Littleton said the high school volleyball team is playing in the district tournament and will be wearing armbands in memory of the girls. Pesnell was a member of the soccer team and those on the team will also be doing something to honor her.
Littleton said a community candlelight vigil will be held at the high school football field at 8 tonight.
“The entire Loretto High School family has suffered a tremendous loss,” she said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and the entire Loretto community.”
The school library will open at 6:30 p.m. for students to gather before the vigil.
Rosson said loving two classmates and close friends puts into perspective how short and precious life is.
“They never met a stranger. They enjoyed life and having a good time together, and then this,” Rosson said. “You ask why, but God has a plan and his will will be done. We just have to go on and let God direct us and accept what has happened, because he does have a plan.”
A Facebook user posted a statement after hearing about the fatality.
“I didn’t know you two but by reading what everyone has said about y’all and how big of an impact you had on their lives, says what kind of great girls you were. I pray for y’all to be safe in heaven and to give your families and friends strength.”
Another friend posted: “It hurts to say it...but it’s time. Goodbye. You are missed so much.”
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.