It’s been more than 18 months since a young Ronan woman was killed in the Mission Valley after court documents say she was pushed out of a moving truck.
In that time, we’ve heard a lot about the defendants in the case, the court proceedings and the sentencing of those blamed for her death . But what’ been lost is her story -- and a family’s sacrifice and how even sometimes in death, comes life.
Her handwriting still greets you at the door. Her face, her memory is everywhere, a reminder of a young life -- a reminder of what’s been lost. Cassandra Harris, 24, was killed in June 2018, left to die on the side of a road near Saint Ignatius. It left her family heartbroken and a little boy without his mother.
Those accused of hurting her were punished, the difficult journey through the courts finally, ended. But that’s not where Cassandra’s story ends -- not by a long shot.
"She said, ‘momma, I’m going to be a donor and I’m going to help somebody someday’. And, little did I know that she was going to do that so soon, but I remember her being so proud of the fact she went to get her ID and she marked that box,” said Cassandra’s mother, Pamela Clary.
Cassandra left behind a chance for a new and better life for others waiting for an organ transplant -- and her gift went a long way.
“There were five people that received her organs. Her heart, her lungs, her liver, both kidneys,” Pamela said. “It’s something that I think about every day, thinking that her heart’s still out there beating. And she had a lot of life in her.”
“I’m proud of her. She overcame things that so many don’t and for her to be able to give that gift of life to other people given the hard circumstances of us losing her. Yes, I’m very proud of her,” Cassandra’s sister Michelle Sharbono said.
This past year, Cassandra and her family were honored by Gov. Steve Bullock for choosing organ donation and Cassie’s name is forever remembered on a tree of life -- remembered by the five families whose lives she changed.
“The very day that was the one-year anniversary of her death, I received the first letter from a recipient. He wrote a touching letter thanking the family and saying how much he honors Casandra and how he has a name for her,” Pamela said. “He says, ‘I’ve talked to her; I hope you don’t mind but I talk to her and now I know who she is’.”
She was a young woman working hard to make a better life for her and the little boy she loved so much. Her family still feels presence and her spirit when they reflect on her life or visit one of two special benches erected in her honor.
They hope someday to meet those people who Cassandra helped, maybe someday feel her heart beating again in someone else...another way to remember the young woman who left behind so much love -- and so much life.
“Shrugging this coat of intense grief is my step now, and just to honor her life and honor what she was trying to achieve -- and remind that little boy for all the days of the rest of his life that his momma loved him,” Pamela concluded.
Cassandra’s family celebrated what would have been her 26th birthday earlier this month. Click here for more information about organ donation in Montana.