MESQUITE — It's summer break, but on Monday, some Mesquite students were getting a lesson in loss — the loss of two educators they know and love.
Seventy students gathered at B.J. Smith Elementary School to speak with grief counselors about James and Leah Eason and their infant son who all died when their SUV ran in to the back of an 18-wheeler on Interstate 30 north of Cookville on Saturday afternoon.
A steady stream of students and parents stared at the window pane of James Eason's fifth grade classroom, finding it hard to believe their favorite teacher will not return to Smith Elementary this fall.
"I loved him a lot," said student Lauren Castaneda. "He was more than just a teacher... he was like your best friend."
Eason, 30; his wife Leah, who was assistant principal at Florence Black Elementary School; and their one-year-old son Luke died Saturday's crash. Only their four-year-old son Jace survived the impact.
"I just hope he'll be okay, because he doesn't have a mom, or dad, or little brother any more," Lauren said. "Hopefully he'll be okay."
Lauren Castaneda and other students wrote letters and posted them on Mr. Eason's classroom window. They also added funny photos, trying to remember the good times — like when he wore a crazy orange hat that former student Chloe Barnes made for the class.
"I keep it because it's a special memory," she said. "He was a one-of-a-kind teacher. I don't think anyone will ever replace him."
Mildred Abu, the school's counselor, spent the day trying to console students and to help them understand that life is not permanent — nor is it always fair.
"He has touched so many of our lives in so many special ways," she said.
Student Carolynne Andres is among those trying to achieve an understanding.
"It's just so sad," she said. "He's a great teacher, and I was so close to him, and it's just sad to see him go."
The students released balloons in tribute to the teacher who will forever remain in their hearts.
Funeral arrangements for the Easons are pending.
Four-year-old Jace is recovering at Children's Medical Center Dallas from broken bones and an injury to his spine. Mesquite school officials say he is expected to recover and will likely go to live with his grandparents.