Neighborhood Graduation Ceremony Honors Car Crash Victim

Neighbors in northeast Escondido's "Hidden Trails" neighborhood gathered to honor their local graduates, including 18-year-old Jonah Staebell

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Neighbors lined the sidewalks in a small Escondido neighborhood Saturday as the city's mayor Paul McNamara announced the names of more than a dozen teenage graduates.

The teens go to different schools, but all live in the "Hidden Trails" community of Escondido and have all seen their graduation ceremonies disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But one family is experiencing this season of loss with heavier hearts than most.

The Staebell family lost their son and brother Jonah Staebell in January to a horrific car crash.

Jonah and a group of friends were riding in the back of a pickup truck when the driver lost control and crashed.

The crash sent waves of heartache across the community and touched the lives of many families, but Jonah was the only one who died.

Jonah's parents and sister hadn't planned on attending Saturday's neighborhood graduation celebration but showed up at the urging of other families who wanted to honor the would-be graduate of Escondido's Classical Academy High School.

"It's joyful because of all these graduates and they all wanted to honor Jonah, so that is really heartwarming for us, but it's also heart-wrenching because don't have Jonah here," said Dana Staebell.

The Staebells said it felt comforting to know Jonah hasn't been forgotten.

They also said the stay at home order during the pandemic has, in a strange way, helped them heal.

"I'm honestly thankful for the time to receive and reflect and work through our grief without as many social pressures. That sounds really selfish, and I'm sorry for everyone suffering through the pandemic, but for us, it's been kind of relief" said Dana Staebell.

NBC 7's Gaby Rodriguez spoke to the teen's head football coach who said he was warrior on the field with a kind heart.
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