SAINT LOUIS, Mo. — It’s another heartbreaking loss for three St. Louis children.
More than 10 years ago, their father died in a refugee camp.
Now, they are without their mother following a deadly crash involving a school bus in the Metro East.
“It’s just incredibly sad,” said Manoj Nepal, family friend and Chairman of the Bhutanese Association of St. Louis.
On Tuesday afternoon, 36-year-old Junu Rai was hit and killed by a school bus on U.S. Highway 50 in O’Fallon.
According to family and friends, Rai lived as a widow in Nepal for several years before she and her three children migrated to the United States in 2013.
With the help of her church, she eventually found work as a seamstress at Custom Product Innovations in O’Fallon.
Police identify woman killed by school bus
“She had never operated a sewing machine before working for us. It was amazing what she learned in such a short amount of time. I remember seeing her at lunch with her Bible,” said Vice-President Mike Hill.
Every day, Rai and fellow refugee and coworker, Dal Mager, 45, would walk along side the highway between work and a nearby Park N Ride station so they could get back to the city and their families.
Mager was critically injured by the bus and is still hospitalized in serious condition in St. Louis. He has a wife and several children, according to family friends.
Morris Aldrich manages a car wash along their route and recalls seeing the pair make the trek consistently regardless of the weather.
“It’s hard enough to get people to work these days let alone in the rain, heat and snow,” he said. “They seemed like nice people wanting to make a paycheck.”
O’Fallon Police continue to investigate what led up to the crash. The driver is cooperating.
The bus had elementary school-aged children on board and was traveling westbound, the same direction as the victims.
Aldrich said, “I’m really surprised they got hit because they’re always walking one behind the other. They’re not doubled up beside each other and they’re always off the road.”
Hill even remembers offering to give the two a ride because it had been raining around the time of the crash.
Now, the area’s Bhutanese community is beginning to rally around both families, especially Rai’s three children, who range in age from 19 to 15.
Video: Community prays for bus accident victims
She called St. Louis home but worked in O’Fallon, Illinois.
“They lost their mother. Mothers are the most important thing in everybody’s life,” Nepal said.
“We miss her, and it’s going to be really tough for her family, as well as her whole community. It’s a big loss for our community,” added Rajiv Guoung, who owns a grocery store nearby that caters to the Bhutanese community.
Rye’s have a large support system through church and social activities, but what will happen to them long-term remains to be seen.
Nepal said, “They have to go to school. They have to run their whole house.”
Gary Barnes, who runs City on Hill in St. Louis and works with the refugee community from Nepal, hopes the community will help.
“My prayer would be that — beyond the funeral and the expenses — that the funding would be there to help the kids so they don’t have to go to work, so they can stay in school. You know, that’s what she [Rai] was trying to do.”
To give to the GoFundMe page that is set up, click here.