Harrisonville students recall fond memories as they struggle with loss of classmate Saylor Johnson

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HARRISONVILLE, Mo. -- Anger and grief.

Emotions are running high for teens Harrisonville High School, suffering after the loss of a friend who was killed in a weekend fire.

The deadly fire happened early Saturday morning. Fire investigators aren't sure what caused the blaze. Two people escaped the fire, which happened near the intersection of E. 278th Street and Missouri Highway DD. Saylor Johnson, 16, died in the fire, which took place at her family's home.

School district leaders have been through this twice before during the ongoing school year. Harrisonville Schools administrators have brought in grief counselors to soothe aching students, who have seen too much tragedy of late.

"There`s typically never a real good answer. You don`t know why someone dies," Mike Royal, a youth pastor at Antioch Southern Baptist Church, told FOX 4 News on Monday.

Royal is one of a handful of counselors who roam the halls at the school this week, available to talk with students and answer hard questions. Harrisonville High School is home to nearly a thousand students, and many knew Johnson, who played on the school's softball team, as a friend. The school placed Johnson's jersey, bearing the number three, in a memorial display near one of the school's front windows on Monday.

Tuesday morning students gathered before heading into the building to honor her memory.

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"They're really hurt. They`re sad this tragedy has taken their friend away. Particularly so young. They`re having a difficult time with it," Royal said.

On Monday, friends and family were gathered outside Johnson's home. A large collection of gift balloons was growing as donations of love have been added to the mix.

"(Students) are pulling out their phones. They have pictures. The funny times they've had on the softball field. All of those things are coming back up, and it`s helping them deal with the tragedy," Royal shared.

It's not the school's first loss this year, either. In August, a car hit and killed a 14-year old Harrisonville freshman. In October, a junior girl also died. Dr. Frank Dahman, Harrisonville Schools Superintendent, issued a statement on Monday, praising his students and families for leaning on one another during another hard time.

Fire investigators in Cass County say it could take up to two weeks to determine the cause of Saturday morning's fire.

Royal says he's met with as many as 70 high school students since Saturday's fire, and he's given each of them the same central message to encourage them.

"Death is not the end. Don't let this tragedy be the end for you," Royal said.

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