They weren’t just close friends, they were “inseparable.” They were active in the school community, putting in the hours on soccer, volleyball or dance teams while still earning the good grades needed to join the National Honor Society.
The Gretna community has been grieving their loss. The Omaha community has rallied in their memory.
Now, their names are known to all:
Thursday, authorities released the names of the four Gretna teenagers who died in this week’s horrible car crash, along with a fifth victim being treated for burns at a Lincoln hospital. That is Roan Brandon, 15, who found out Wednesday that her four best friends had died.
Sarpy County authorities and Gretna Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Riley held a press conference to discuss the crash.
“Our collective heart in our community is shattered,” Riley said. “We ache for the families.”
The five girls were all soon-to-be juniors at Gretna High. Barth, Odermatt and Pfeifer were 16, Minardi 15.
“These are good girls,” he said. “They’re smart girls. They’re the closest of friends.”
Authorities also gave the first indication of how the crash happened. Sheriff Jeff Davis said investigators think speed was a factor.
But Davis declined to go into specifics about the investigation, saying that it is ongoing and that authorities will turn over every stone to figure out what happened.
“We owe it to the families to get to the bottom of what happened,” Davis said. “Not only for their sake, but to see if there’s anything we can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The crash happened late Monday along Platteview Road, in a rural area about three miles east of the Nebraska Crossing Outlets with only a handful of houses nearby.
Investigators determined that the Ford Fusion was eastbound on Platteview Road when it left the roadway and struck the end of a guardrail. That happened just west of 180th Street and Platteview Road.
The vehicle continued down into a ravine and caught fire.
First responders were called to the scene — initially reported as a grass fire by a passerby — at 11:12 p.m. and found the car.
Brandon was ejected from the vehicle, as was at least one other girl, Davis said. He said the car belonged to Barth and she was the driver.
Brandon was taken to Creighton University Medical Center-Bergan Mercy before being transferred to St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center in Lincoln. Davis said she has suffered serious injuries but is expected to live.
Davis said it took authorities until late Wednesday to identify the victims. Authorities still don’t know where the girls were coming from or where they were headed.
While makeshift memorials have sprung up at the accident site, Davis cautioned students, parents and community members against visiting the scene to leave flowers or other mementos.
“It is absolutely not safe in that particular area,” he said. “There’s no place to park and heavy equipment is going by minute-by-minute delivering rock and dirt down here to Highway 34.”
Deputies have put barricades in place and will be moving memorials to a slightly safer spot nearby on 180th Street.
One of the girls is the daughter of a Gretna schools staffer. Another was the daughter of a former student whom Riley knew when he was the high school principal.
Riley said the girls’ families monitored their daughters closely. But he said parents can’t protect their children from everything.
“If you’ve ever had a 15- or 16-year-old daughter, you know you can’t lock them in their room,” he said. “Sometimes when kids get together, accidents happen. Mistakes are made.”
Hundreds of Gretna students have met with crisis counselors since the accident, he said. The school community has received an outpouring of support from across the metro area and the state — dozens of phone calls, text messages and letters expressing deep sympathy for the loss.
“We’re in a nightmare that we can’t wake up from,” Riley said.
But with the help of faith and a community spirit that can’t be broken, he said Gretna will heal.
“I always tell my administrative team, if you’re always trying to do the right thing, you will land on your feet,” he said. “And the community of Gretna will land on its feet.”