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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
Marisa W. Harris, 22, the Olney woman who died last month while driving on Interstate 66 in Fairfax County, Va., after a 12-year-old boy jumped from an overpass and landed on her car, was a kind and loving young woman who cherished her friends and family, and had a strong desire to work with children, said her mother, Leigh Miller.
“She loved her dog, a Wheaten terrier, more than anything,” her mother said. “Most of her pictures were with the dog.”
Harris loved to travel and spent her free time enjoying the outdoors with her boyfriend, hiking or sightseeing in the Washington, D.C., area, Miller said.
Her mother said Harris “caught the travel bug early.” She loved to travel internationally and had spent a semester studying abroad in Italy.
“She loved everything about it,” she said.
Harris grew up in Olney, attending Julia Brown Montessori, Brooke Grove Elementary, William H. Farquhar Middle School and Sherwood High School.
She graduated from Sherwood in 2013.
“I recognized her when I saw her photo,” Principal William Gregory said. “I did not know her well, but I remember she was a nice person.”
Harris graduated from Towson University and was a first-year graduate student in the clinical mental health program at Marymount University in Arlington.
While at Towson, she went on a service trip to San Miguel, Mexico, where she worked at a community daycare center.
Miller said that trip solidified Marisa’s desire to work with children.
“She believed that if you staved off some of the problems when children were younger, you could have a bigger impact,” she said. “The irony of the situation is definitely something that really stands out, for sure.”
The 12-year-old boy was transported to Fairfax Inova Hospital and was being treated for life-threatening injuries, police said. No further information could be found by The Greater Olney News press time.
The Virginia State Police Fairfax Division Crash Reconstruction Team and Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Fairfax Field Office personnel responded to the scene to assist with the investigation.
The incident was being investigated as an attempted suicide, police said.
The Olney Psychiatric and Counseling Center sees about 600 patients a month, about half of which are teens and adolescents.
“What we are seeing is that the kids that are coming in are more depressed and their feelings are more intense than they used to be,” said Kim Wells, a licensed clinical social worker and owner of Olney Psychiatric and Counseling Center. “They tend to be more impulsive.”
Wells’ comments are general in nature, not specific to the 12-year-old boy.
She said many families are unaware that their children are depressed.
“There aren’t always a whole lot of signs and I find this very scary,” Wells said.
She believes a lot has to do with social media. Children are not focusing on relationships and building supportive connections.
“When they get into crisis, they don’t have a lot of patience because they are used to immediate gratification, and they haven’t learned how to deal with uncomfortable feelings,” she said.
Wells suggested that parents talk with their children and watch for signs of depression such as giving away their possessions, grades dropping or changes in eating. She also suggests that parents have conversations with their children without their cell phones.
Police responded at 4:18 p.m. Oct. 28 to the incident, which occurred in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 66 at the Cedar Lane overpass near Exit 62 for Nutley Street.
Virginia State Police said the impact incapacitated Harris and the 23-year-old front-seat passenger steered the vehicle off the interstate. The 2005 Ford Escape came to a stop on the left shoulder against the Jersey wall, police said.
Harris died at the scene, police reported. The front-seat passenger was Harris’ boyfriend, according to Miller, who added it does not appear that he sustained any physical injuries.
She said Harris’ family wants to acknowledge her daughter’s boyfriend, who “heroically steered the car off the road, averting what could have been a much larger tragedy.”
The family is planning a memorial service to be held in the next few weeks, which will be open to the public. Miller said the details will be announced when plans are finalized.
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