QQQ 33 July 17, 2019: When A Mother of Three Lost Her Children; Delta Air Lines, Friends, and Co-Workers Were There for Her

QPR Quick Quotes: July 17, 2019 When a Mother of Three Lost Her Children; Delta Airlines, Friends, and Co-Workers Were There for Her
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July 17, 2019

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When A Mother of Three Lost Her Children; Delta Air Lines, Friends, and Co-Workers Were There for Her

– Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D.

This month’s QPR Quick Quotes article illustrates the enormous role that friends, co-workers, and Delta Air Lines played in supporting Karen Perry when her three young children died in a private plane crash. Karen’s story is a stark contrast to the story of another woman in my case study research whose friends intended to support her when her only son died, but in their own words, time slipped away, and within a few short months this other bereaved mother had taken her own life.

Karen’s Story

    Thanksgiving weekend of 2011, my inbox flooded with emails from friends and colleagues from Delta Air Lines about a crash involving the children of one of their flight attendants. As the news broke, I learned that a fatal crash of a private aircraft had resulted in the loss of Karen Perry's three children, her ex-husband, the pilot, and the one other passenger on board. I kept up with the news as best I could and prayed for Karen and the other family members whose loved ones had perished in the crash. Having no formal connection to Karen, it would be three years before I could meet her and hear her personal story.

    A colleague at Delta sent me an email and suggested that I speak with Karen as he knew how much I would want to hear her story and learn all that she could share about what helped her survive the unimaginable trauma and loss. With his introduction, I spoke with Karen over the phone and invited her to present her story at our upcoming Family Assistance Foundation conference scheduled a few months after our discussion.

    Karen presented the chronology of the events of the crash and shared about her extraordinary three angels with humility and grace.  As she gave example after example of the kindness and generosity of friends, co-workers, her employer, as well as strangers—we fought back the tears, but our hearts were brimming over with admiration and appreciation for all the kindness that had played such a critical role in Karen’s survival.


Suicide prevention is not so much the stopping of a self-inflicted death as it is the restoration of hope in the hopeless before the fatal planning begins.

-Paul Quinnett, Ph.D. 

Founder & CEO,  QPR Institute

    When the Family Assistance Foundation partnered with the QPR Institute in 2017 we began offering workshops aimed at raising awareness about the risks and warning signs of suicide; I knew Karen's story would be an invaluable contribution.   I have kept in touch with Karen since our first meeting and wrote this article after an interview I conducted with her, approximately seven and a half years following the death of her children. 


How Karen Learned of the Tragedy

    November 23, 2011, a friend of Karen's drove her three children to meet their father for a twenty-minute flight from Mesa, AZ to Safford, AZ. Karen remembers kissing Morgan, 9; Logan, 8; and Luke, 6 as they left, and telling them that she loved them. Karen had been ill that day and had fallen asleep as soon as they departed. She awoke within the hour, realizing that the children had not called to announce their safe arrival. Keeping an optimistic attitude, Karen fell back to sleep, thinking that the call was just delayed and would happen shortly.

    When her childcare provider called to tell her that there had been a crash, Karen wondered why she was calling her about that. Taking matters into her own hands, Karen called the company who owned the aircraft. When the voice on the phone immediately asked if the sheriff had been to her home yet, Karen could no longer deny the reality of a crash involving her children. Despite the news, Karen was determined to remain optimistic. The situation, however, became alarming when the sheriff in a party of six, including a chaplain arrived at her home. 

    Soon enough word would arrive that the crash had resulted in a total loss of the aircraft, with no survivors. While initially her daughter’s hand was recovered, due to the intense fire, there would be little if any remains to bury. Karen’s memory of the first night is sketchy, but she does remember that as news broke, her home began to fill with people. While many were known to her, some were not part of her social circle–although Karen felt that even the strangers who came to her home that night meant well. She remembers people taping newspaper over her windows, as there were no drapes or curtains to shield her from curious onlookers.


The task of prevention lies more with those persons in the sufferer’s existing social network than in the person contemplating suicide.

-Paul Quinnett, Ph.D.

Founder & CEO,  QPR Institute


The Power of Friends, Co-workers and Delta Air Lines

     My friends just took over. Before I knew it, my supervisor along with two co-workers were at my home. Delta paid for them to stay in the town where I lived. Being in my home meant they could watch me 24/7 for several days.

    Even though Karen wished for her privacy at times, she knew that she was fortunate to work for a company that would do so much for her. She knew they really cared about her well-being and were there to keep her company. They also could help her and her best friends figure out how to get through the funeral and other events that followed the tragedy. Karen’s mother had died several years before, as had her only sibling, and her father was not able to help. Her co-workers and friends began to plan the funeral. It became obvious that many people wanted to attend. Karen remembers hearing someone say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Delta Air Lines chartered one of their own airplanes and brought everyone in who wants to come to the funeral?”

    Next thing we knew, Delta had chartered one of their own B-757 jets and flew one hundred and fifty flight attendants, in uniform, to my children’s funeral.

    Delta flew the friends and co-workers in from Los Angeles, CA, and then chartered busses to transport them to the funeral. The location for the funeral had to be moved three times to accommodate the large number of people who were coming. Looking back, Karen marvels at what they accomplished in such a short time. The crash occurred on November 23, and the funeral on December 3rd. While Karen has little memory about the services that day, she has been able to view the funeral,  because the entire ceremony was videotaped and now truly appreciates how special it was.

    Karen's loss would eventually lead to a formal foundation where she could help other children in her three children's honor. The mission started in 2013, about two years after the accident. But, even before then, at the funeral, she was thinking of other children. Attendees of the funeral were advised to bring children's toys instead of sending flowers. The toys brought were donated to a charity organization that was making it possible for children in need to experience the joy of Christmas.


The Next Dilemma that Karen Faced was Losing Her Home

     Many people thought that I received a large settlement which was not true. The aircraft was not insured well enough to make that possible.  

    While Karen could have filed a lawsuit, she did not feel this was the right action for her to take at that time. Karen knew she needed her energy for her emotional survival.

    Within three months after the death of her children, Karen found that she could not hold on to her home. As with much of Karen's story, this too made national news. Again, Karen was amazed at the outpouring of love and compassion from people who heard of her plight. She received cards and letters of support, often with money enclosed. While a realtor friend helped all she could, Karen was finally forced to short-sell her home and move out.

    Not wanting to part with her children's belongings, and unable to sort through them at the time, Karen’s friends came through again. A moving company donated boxes and the moving van moved her's and the children's belongings. Their toys and all that was in their rooms went into storage, where most remains today. Karen slowly works through the boxes, deciding what to keep and what to give away.

     Actor and comedian, David Spade, who has a connection to Phoenix, AZ learned of her story and donated ten thousand dollars to help her. This donation allowed Karen to secure a place to live for the next twelve months.


Making A New Life

    Flight Attendants that Karen worked with had given her another gift that was life-sustaining at the time her children died. Donating vacation days, she was able to take a full year off to rest, grieve, and decide what she wanted to do next. After only six months, Karen decided that going back to flying would be healthy for her. On her first layover in Tokyo, Karen met a Delta Air Lines captain named Gordon. As they talked, Gordon, also from the Phoenix area, realized that the Karen he was speaking with was the flight attendant whose tragic story had been in the news. 

    He surprised her when he said, “I don’t know what to say to you, right now.” Karen, accustomed to hearing platitudes from well-meaning people who tried to make her feel better appreciated his honesty and humility. “Then, don't say anything. Just give me a hug," she responded. And with that, a beautiful friendship that would later blossom into romance was born. Later, Karen and Gordon married and today make their home in Gold Canyon, AZ.

3 Wings of Life

    My Children were my whole life. When they died, I was left with a hole in my heart…my life. I wondered what I was supposed to learn from this experience. And now what would I do with my life?

    A couple of years before the crash, Karen’s best friend Eva, told her about a vision she had of a place for hope and healing for children. At that time, Karen said to her that while she thought it was a great idea, she had no energy for anything other than supporting and raising her three children. After the crash, this memory came back to Karen. She realized that while she did not have a lot of money, she did have the time to do something meaningful to help other children.

    With the help of others, Karen formed a board of directors and received the 501c-3 charitable status for her foundation. While initially, the charity offered hot meals and a place for neighborhood children to play and interact in a safe environment, Karen's dream of providing Equine Therapy eventually became a reality. Today Karen's foundation offers programs under the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA). Karen's foundation owns three horses and serves families in the geographical area where she lives.


    In the beautiful book, Angels Three, The Karen Perry Story, Karen tells her story through author, Landon J. Napoleon. The book details Karen’s life, including details of her beginnings and about the birth and life of her children—in addition to details of the crash, the investigation and other facts that provide a comprehensive account of the tragedy.

    Looking back, Karen finds it ironic that her children died in an aviation accident, in the Superstition Mountain range, just behind her home.  One of Karen’s greatest loves, in addition to that of motherhood, was aviation.  Karen had earned her commercial pilot’s credentials and looked forward to maintaining them. Following the birth of her children, this was not possible. Her love for aviation has never waned; thus her career continues as of this writing, as a Delta Air Lines Flight Attendant.

    Despite this irony, it is clear that aviation and her community did not let her down. When Karen was helpless and dependent on those around her for support, compassion and understanding—her friends, co-workers, and the leadership team at Delta Air Lines came through. Having personally experienced the power of support from others during such dire circumstances not only helped save Karen at the time, it formed the basis of her work today. The model of giving, supporting and helping others has become her life’s mission.

    Karen’s children come to her in her dreams as one of the constant reminders that they are with her in spirit. It is a privilege for us at the Foundation to be allowed to share her story. As it provides a perfect example of what support from friends, co-workers, and a compassionate corporation can do to save a life in the aftermath of unspeakable loss.  


About QPR

QPR stands for Question, Persuade and Refer, and is a research-based intervention that anyone can learn. If you are interested in learning more about how to become a Gatekeeper and becoming part of a more extensive network that is dedicated to suicide prevention, please contact us. The Foundation works with the QPR Institute to customize this successful intervention for cruise lines, aviation companies, human resources professionals, and other workplace groups. To learn more about the training classes offered by the Family Assistance Foundation, and for information about upcoming Gatekeeper classes and how you can become a trainer within your workplace go to fafonline.org. You can also contact Cheri Johnson at cheri.johnson@aviem.com

Upcoming Gatekeeper Trainings

Atlanta Gatekeeper Training

September 27, 2019

Atlanta Train-the-Trainer Training

September 27, 2019

QPR Gatekeeper and Train-the-Trainer Training will be offered at additional locations when additional dates for Foundation Member-Partner Meetings are announced for 2019.

© 2019 QPR Institute Inc./Family Assistance Education & Research Foundation

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