Community grieves death of young girl

Thursday, February 24, 2011
Melissa Kief

Students at Cassville Intermediate School are keeping what R-4 Superintendent Richard Asbill calls a "stiff upper lip" in the wake of the tragic loss of their classmate and friend, Melissa Kief.

Kief, 10, and a fourth grade student at Cassville, died Monday from injuries she suffered Saturday night in a head-on crash that also seriously injured her father, Kenneth Kief, 33, of Washburn, and a passenger in the vehicle that struck them, Sandra S. Larson, 46, of Shell Knob. Gregory Swaffar, 26, of Purdy, was the driver of the Dodge Dakota that crossed the center line and struck the Kief vehicle. The wreck occurred about one mile south of Butterfield on Highway 37.

"This is a difficult process," Asbill said. "On Sunday, we related the information to teachers and staff members regarding those injuries.

"This is a different journey now," Asbill continued. "Students are coming to grips with the situation. We have crisis counselors on staff to provide answers to any questions students may have. We have three crisis counselors on staff, and they will be available to talk to students not only today, but at any time."

Asbill said Monday was the toughest day for students and school staff.

"The information coming in was not optimistic," he said. "Today, we're looking at supporting the students and the family of Melissa and Ken, Jr."

Melissa's grandparents, Arenda Kief, a special education teacher with the district since 1999, and her husband, Ken, have shown tremendous courage in the face of this tragedy.

"They have found some comfort in the organ donation process," Asbill said. "That is a way to continue Melissa's life in a different form. We have a tremendous amount of admiration for them."

Kenneth Kief Jr. is a 1996 graduate of Cassville High School. He is still undergoing treatment for his injuries at a Columbia hospital.

As friends and family members are called into the area to say their final farewells to Melissa Kief, Asbill encourages the community to remember the family during this difficult time.

"We just want to keep the Kiefs in our prayers," he said. "Even though Melissa's journey has ended, her father is still struggling to make it. We hurt for them, and just want to lift them up and keep them in our thoughts."

Visitation will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednessday, March 2, at the J.C. Duncan Gymnasium (the rock gym) in Cassville. Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 3, at Allen Church in Cape Fair.

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