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Surrounding communities rally to help Oregon City High School after loss of student

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - Otto was very popular at Oregon City High School. Everyone who passed, stopped to say hi.After the Oregon City High School community was devastated by the loss of one of their own two weeks ago, it saw an outpouring of support from people — and pets — across the county.

OCHS student Charles Anthony Brennan, 16, died in a car accident Wednesday, Jan. 29, and since then counselors, support groups, and canine aide Otto of the West Linn Library have helped staff and students cope.

"When a school, or an organization, goes through grief and tragedy, it's just more than the capacity for that organization, so all those groups coming in helped not only navigate the first couple of days, but helped develop our entrance into the next phase of healing," OCHS Associate Principal Stacy Erickson said.

Since Brennan passed, OCHS received support from counselors at North Clackamas, Canby and Gladstone school districts, the county's crisis response team and a group of therapy dogs.

Otto and his owner, Melanie Nelson, the assistant to West Linn Library Director Doug Erickson (related to Stacy Erickson by marriage), visited OCHS Feb. 4 and 7 to offer emotional support to staff and students.

"We went into three different classrooms and the students were really appreciative and gave Otto a lot of love and I think it really made them relax and open up," Nelson said.

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - Melanie Nelson (left) and Otto helped bring smiles to Oregon City High School after the death of a student. Assistant Principal Stacy  Erickson was grateful for everyone who supported the school. Nelson said they also sat in the common area during break so people could say hi to Otto. The joy the 160-pound Leonberger brought to people was immediately apparent, she said. Nearly everyone who passed him stopped to smile, say hi and marvel at his size, fluff and gentleness.

Otto is a trained therapy dog and frequently visits Nelson's mom and the other patients at Tanner Springs Memory Care.

Stacy Erickson noted how thankful she is to have such a supportive network of community partners to help one another during a tragedy.

"That makes us not feel so alone because it almost doubles our capacity to handle these events," she said. "Going forward, in the bigger picture, we want to make sure we're helping other groups and schools, but also helping our staff and our students learn how to handle grief and tragedy as it comes along."

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