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A 22-year-old woman studying to help children with mental health issues was killed when a boy attempted suicide by jumping off a Virginia freeway overpass October 29.
Officials from the Virginia State Patrol say that Marisa W. Harris, of Onley, Maryland, was killed on impact. Her boyfriend was in the passenger seat when the child hit her car, police say.
Harris is being remembered as a genuine and caring person who loved to work with troubled children and hoped to one day make it a career.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Harris Was Pronounced Dead at the Scene & the Boy Survived
According to Virginia State Police, Harris was driving a 2005 Ford Escape in Vienna eastbound on Interstate 66 around 4:15 p.m. October 29 when the boy suddenly jumped from the overpass at Cedar Lane.
After the collision, her boyfriend was able to grab the steering wheel and swerve the SUV off the road, avoiding other cars, a police statement said. He was uninjured from the incident, but Harris was pronounced dead at the scene and the boy sustained life-threatening injuries.
The unidentified boy is currently at a Fairfax Hospital in serious condition.
2. Harris Recently Graduated College & Was Pursuing Clinical Counseling School
Harris is originally from Olney, Maryland and graduated from Towson University last May. She was enrolled in her first year at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia where she was studying clinical counseling. A professor at Marymount remembered her as being “caring” and “compassionate” in an interview with NBC 4 News. She said that Harris loved to helped children in need and dreamed about eventually making it a career.
“Marisa came across as a very caring and compassionate student,” Lisa Jackson-Cherry told the news outlet. “(She was) someone who wanted to help others who were either disadvantaged or needed more assistance to work through mental distress.”
The Marymount student body was notified of her tragic death via email alert October 30.
“Every student contributes immeasurably to the community we create together at Marymount University,” a statement said. “The loss of any student, particularly in so heartbreaking a manner, grieves us all.”
3. Her Parents Said She Had ‘an Absolute Love for Children’
The unexpected loss of Harris has understandably rocked her family and friends. Her family remembered her life during an interview with The Washington Post, saying she had a gift of assisting children with severe behavioral problems.
“She was caring,” her mother, Leigh Miller, told The Post. “She had an absolute love for children. She was — she was awesome. I miss her so much.”
Marisa’s father Patrick Harris described his daughter as outgoing and having a love for the outdoors.
“She was fearless, she was absolutely fearless,” he told the newspaper. “She was loved by her friends, she was dearly loved by her family, she was admired by her peers, she was just a shining star.”
The Harris family released a statement on her death October 30, saying they don’t have any further comment and asked for privacy during their time of grieving.
4. Harris Was an Exceptional Student, a Professor Said
Harris graduated from Sherwood High School in Olney in 2013. She was part of a graduating class of 347 students. A professor at Towson described her as a quiet person who “took her studies very seriously.”
“About half of (students) don’t make it,” Towson psychology professor Dr. Bethany Brand told ABC 2 News. “She made it in. And then they take specialty classes with students — 12 other students, for a whole year and a half. So she got to know her classmates very well. I’ve been hearing from her classmates all day.”
Brand told the news outlet the boy who jumped from the overpass is “exactly one of the kids she might’ve been working with down the road.”
5. An On-Campus Memorial is Being Planned at Marymount
Counselors were made available on the Marymount campus for those in need of guidance, a message from school President Matthew D. Shank said.
Marisa had already immersed herself in the Marymount experience and the Counseling discipline. She was part of a group of students and faculty who traveled to Budapest, Hungary, last month to attend the European Branch of the American Counseling Association conference. Counseling Department Chairperson Dr. Lisa Jackson-Cherry said, “Marisa was very quiet and reflective, but you could tell once she completed her program she was going to make a difference in the lives of a lot of young adults. Perhaps one of the largest impacts of this tragedy will be the loss of the positive impact that she would have had on others.
School officials are working on planning an on-campus memorial in memory of Harris.