Blacklick Valley School District is mourning the death of a junior high student killed over the weekend in a still-unsolved Portage Township incident.
Sierra Nihart, 15, was identified as a Cresson resident by authorities investigating her death.
But she was a longtime Blacklick Valley student who finished the 2019-2020 school year in the district, Blacklick Valley Superintendent William Kanich confirmed.
“Our hearts go out to the family,” Kanich said, noting that the district is grieving, too.
“As a parent, I can’t imagine losing one of my children,” Kanich said.
Law enforcement officials have not disclosed what caused the teen’s death, saying she was a passenger in a green Jeep Liberty that was traveling on Turbine Road in Portage Township on Friday.
Someone brought the teen – then already deceased – to the Portage Area Ambulance station in a private vehicle shortly after 4 p.m. and an investigation has been underway since.
State police classified the case as an “undetermined death.” They have reached out to the community for help in the days since.
Cambria County Coroner Jeff Lees said the teen’s death “involved a vehicle’” but he and Cambria County District Attorney Greg Neugebauer said state police, including a Greensburg-based forensic unit, are still gathering information.
“Anyone with information regarding this investigation is requested to contact the Pennsylvania State Police at 814-471-6500,” Trooper Donald Neisner wrote in a release to media.
Neugebauer described the incident as a “tremendously sad case,” given the fact Nihart was just 15 years old.
Nihart previously lived in the Nanty Glo area and earned the nickname “Soda Pop” from family, relatives wrote in an obituary.
Friends posted memories of the teen on The Tribune-Democrat’s online obituary “guestbook,” describing her as loyal, caring – and now, “greatly missed.”
“Fly high girly,” one friend wrote.
Bowser-Ondriezek Funeral Home is handling the arrangements for Nihart’s funeral. A visitation at the Nanty Glo location is scheduled for Wednesday.
“This is definitely not easy right now,” Kanich said, acknowledging the sudden death shocked and saddened the district community.
Several families have contacted the school for help, saying their school-age children were struggling with the loss.
As of Tuesday, school administrators and staff were making arrangements to connect the students with outside counseling services, he said.
“Any other year, we’d be able to bring them in here for services,” Kanich said.
“But with COVID-19, they’re going to be able to receive support in-home or by phone – so it’s more individualized.
“Whatever we can do for the community and our students, we’re going to do that for them.”
DA: ‘Open investigation’
According to Lees, Nihart died of blunt force trauma to the upper torso.
He is awaiting lab results and has not yet ruled on the manner of death.
Neugebauer said state police have collected physical evidence for testing and are gathering statements on the incident to continue their investigation.
Some results may take several weeks or more, he said.
“Until all of the information in this case has been gathered and returned to us, this will remain an open investigation,” Neugebauer said.