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Coping without Karlee

West Goshen Elementary dealing with tragic loss

February 28, 2011|By Diane Daniels (

As an autopsy was conducted on 7-year-old Karlee Byler Monday, her classmates at West Goshen Elementary returned to school to find crisis teams on hand. 

Byler was shot to death Friday night when a gun fell out of her dad’s pocket and fired, hitting her in the head. According to Goshen Police, the coroner ruled on Monday that Karlee’s death was accidental. But for the school community she leaves behind, coping with the loss is overwhelming.  

Dr. Alan Metcalfe, West Goshen Elementary’s principal, says his crisis team started meeting Friday night at 7 after learning of Karlee’s death. 

“It’s something we have a plan for. It’s not something we’ve ever had to put in place,” Metcalfe said of the crisis team being activated.

Extra counselors from other Goshen schools were on hand Monday and pastors were on-call if needed.  And they were needed.

“We’ve started to have students come down to the office with stomach aches and sadness and that kind of thing,” Metcalfe observed by midday Monday.


“Even though the circumstances involved a gun, our goal is to not focus on how it happened, but how to move on from here. So we are not addressing that,” Metcalfe said of the weapon involved in Karlee’s death.

Guidance counselor, Jodie Lantz, was with Karlee’s first-grade teacher Monday morning when the class arrived at school. 

“We had a class meeting and the teacher and myself shared with students what happened Friday night to Karlee,” Lantz said. “And different kids had different responses. Some had talked with their parents about it. Other had not heard the news.”

The school crisis team contacted the parents of Karlee’s classmates over the weekend.  Parents were invited to join their student at school Monday as the class dealt with what happened. 

“There were questions about what it means to die and that she won’t be coming back.  Some asked about the funeral,” Lantz added.

Lantz says Karlee’s classmates reminisced about her, talking about her favorite colors, foods, and games.

“One of the students talked about her laughter. That brought a lot of laughter from other students in the classroom,” Lantz recalled.

Students struggling to cope with the news of Karlee’s death were urged to write or draw pictures for her family.

Visitation for Karlee will be Tuesday at Zion Chapel in Goshen from 2 – 4 p.m. and 6 – 8 p.m. Funeral services will be at Zion Chapel Wednesday at 10 a.m.  Memorials in honor of Karlee can be made to Zion Chapel’s Layette Ministry which provides handmade blankets and supplies to new mothers in the community.

West Goshen Elementary will not have students attend services as a school group.  However, parents may take their student out of school to attend. Metcalfe said teachers are encouraged to attend visitation after school hours on Tuesday so that they can be in school Wednesday during the funeral to provide a sense of normalcy for students.

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