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Joined: Oct 1999
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Michael P., Jillian Bliss, Makayla, and BryceCasey

A former Marion resident and her husband, who had been running a school for the children of agricultural workers in Belize, died Friday along with their two young children when their small private plane crashed while landing on the island of San Pedro.

Killed in the crash with Jillian Bliss (Schuessler) Casey, a graduate of Bishop Stang High School in Dartmouth, and Michael P. Casey, both 32, were their children, Makayla, 3, and Bryce, 7 months; as well as the pilot, former Belize senator and bottling magnate, Sir Barry Bowen, 64.

The crash occurred at about 5:30 p.m. as the single-engine plane was approaching the airstrip at the San Pedro Municipal Airport in Belize, according to a family friend, Nelson Pratt of Lakeville. The plane was experiencing mechanical problems, according to a report in today's Standard-Times .
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His work will keep on shining

Kin of Albany man killed in plane crash vow to continue charitable work

ALBANY-- Michael Casey grew up in a tight-knit Irish clan on Van Schoick Avenue in the St. Teresa of Avila parish, where multiple generations put down roots and the passing of years is marked by a block party each September.

Casey dreamed big.

He loved the Grateful Dead, and found in the lyrics to "I'll Take a Melody" a philosophy for life. "Keep on shining," he signed his e-mails from the rainforest in Belize, where he taught the children of poor coffee plantation laborers to keep on shining and to dream big, too.

Casey was principal of the tiny Gallon Jug Community School and taught seventh- and eighth-graders. His wife, Jill, taught grades 3 and 4. After she had her second child, she took a break from school and started an in-home day care center.

Casey's three brothers, a sister and their parents, who still live on Van Schoick Avenue, vowed to carry on the couple's work in Belize following a plane crash Friday off the coast of the Central American country that killed Michael and Jill Casey, both 32, and their two children, Makayla, 3, and Bryce, 7 months.

Family members were expected to return from Belize with the four bodies tonight. A memorial Mass is planned for Monday in Albany.

The four Caseys were passengers in a Cessna private plane flown by Barry Bowen, a prominent Belize businessman and experienced pilot who owned the 130,000-acre private nature preserve in which Gallon Jug Community School is located. The Caseys were close friends of Bowen, his son and his son's family.

Bowen also died when his plane appeared to have mechanical difficulties and crashed as it made its approach near the San Pedro airport on Ambergris Caye, a Caribbean island off the Belize coast.

Jill Casey's sister and brother-in-law and their baby were waiting for them at the airport and witnessed the crash.

Officials are planning to rename the Gallon Jug school in memory of the Caseys. "He was a remarkable person determined to change the world for the better and he did," said his sister, Kelly Casey Tynan of Guilderland.

"He was so inspiring, so passionate, so visionary. What he was able to accomplish from the middle of the rainforest was amazing," said Lynn McGuire, former board president of World's Window in Albany, a not-for-profit that helps provide education for poor children in Zimbabwe and Belize.

Casey had helped the organization raise about $25,000 over the past three years for scholarships that made it possible for his students to continue an education out of reach economically for their families. He brought computers with Internet access to his school, an arrival that his students viewed with as much awe as they would have seeing ice in the tropics.

Casey and his students spoke regularly via webcam with students at Bethlehem Middle School, where Casey's friend Bill Reilly is a teacher. They raised money by selling artwork from Gallon Jug students at Casey's brother's coffee shop in Delmar.

Casey was named president of World's Window on Jan. 1. "The board is committed to continuing Mike's work and vision," McGuire said.

The Times Union

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The Casey Family

SAN PEDRO, BELIZE — On February 26th, an airplane crash in Belize claimed the lives of a young American family.

Michael Casey, 32, of Albany, NY, and his wife, Jillian Schuessler Casey, 32, of Marion, MA, along with their two children, Makayla, 3, and Bryce, 7 months, were killed when their plane, piloted by Sir Barry Bowen, crashed while approaching San Pedro Airport.

Jillian Casey was the daughter of Linda and the late Dr. Peter Schuessler of Marion.

Michael and Jillian were 1999 graduates of St. Michael's College in Vt., and left for Belize in 2001 to become leaders of the 75-student Community School located in the rain-forest village of Gallon Jug. Mike was the school's principal in addition to being the 7th and 8th grade teacher. Jill was the 3rd and 4th grade teacher and recently opened a home daycare program. They dedicated their professional lives to educating and improving the lives of the children of Gallon Jug, including raising scholarship funds to send some of their promising students to schools in America.

Mike was a 1995 graduate of LaSalle Institute in Troy, NY where he lettered in varsity hockey. He graduated from St. Michael's with a dual major in political science and environmental studies. He also earned a master's degree in education. While working in Belize, Mike became president of World's Windows, Inc. of Albany, a charity that has ties around the world. The organization focuses on "health education and the creation of self-sustaining communities and empowerment for all people." Mike was dedicated to his family and to the health and education of the world's children. He was recently accepted by the State University of New York at Albany to pursue an Advanced Graduate Certificate in the School Building and Leadership Program.

Jillian Schuessler Casey graduated from Bishop Stang High School in 1995 where she played varsity basketball and field hockey.

She was a dean's list student at St. Michael's, graduating with a B.S. in psychology. "Miss Jill" was cherished by the villagers of Gallon Jug for her grace and her loving heart. The only thing more important to Jill than the health and safety of her village children was the devotion she had for her own children, Makayla and Bryce.

Mike and Jill were married in a garden ceremony on a hillside in Gallon Jug in January, 2006. They shared an adventurous spirit and spent much of their free time hiking, horseback riding, sailing, and exploring the many habitats of Belize. They were both accomplished skiers and shared a love of bird watching, botany, music, and family vacations. They were devoted to their families who had looked forward to their permanent return, with their two beautiful children, to the United States.

Mike Casey leaves his parents, Frank and Penny of Albany; his brothers, Shawn, Chris and Dan, along with his sister, Kelly and husband, Craig Tynan, with their three children, Casey, 9, Quinn, 5, and Eryn, 9 months.

Jill leaves her mother, Linda of Marion; her sister, Amanda Dodge of Gallon Jug and her husband, Ben, and their 4-month old son, Payson, and her sister, Melissa Schuessler of Providence, RI; her aunt, Sally Presbrey of South Dartmouth, her aunt and uncle, Ree and Jim Coyman of Ridgefield, CT, and an uncle, Bob Schuessler, of Vero Beach, FL. Jillian was predeceased by her father, Dr. Peter Schuessler, her uncle, Scott Presbrey, and her maternal and paternal grandparents.

A funeral service will be held at 11 A.M., Friday, March 5th at the Wickenden Chapel, Tabor Academy, Marion, MA. Burial will be in Evergreen Cemetery, Marion. In addition, a memorial service will be held at Mater Christi Church, Albany, NY on March 8th at 9:30 A.M.

Donations can be made to the Gallon Jug Community School Scholarship Fund in memory of Miss Jill and Mr. Mike at the Eastern Bank, 340 Front St., P.O. Box 517, Marion, MA 02738.

For online condolence book, please visit

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They are going to call the Gallon Jug School after them; the Casey Community School.
That's what was said Monday at the memorial.

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Remembering the Caseys

    As the sun set behind the island of San Pedro darkness began its slow envelope. With it a somber feeling befell all as the news of the Casey family death was discovered. Four deaths, a terrible unexpected tragedy cutting short their lives which had been dedicated to the betterment of those near and far to them. She was a former Marion, Massachusetts, resident who graduated from Bishop Stang High School, while he was had lived his earlier life in Albany, New York. Together they made their life in the jungles of Belize at the Gallon Jug Estate where they ran the Gallon Jug Community School.

    Jillian and Mike met in college while they attended St. Michael's College in Colchester, Vermont. They moved to the Belizean green pastures and were married in January 2006. For the past nine years, the Caseys ran the 75-student school which had grades spanning from kindergarten through Grade 8. He was the principal and seventh and eighth grade teacher while Jill taught grades three and four at the school. As part of their dedication to the children of Gallon Jug, the Caseys raised scholarship funds to send some of their better students to schools in the U.S. They also reached out to donors in the U.S. for one of their exceptional students to attend Tabor Academy in Marion. The student is now a freshman at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Friends close to the Caseys speak of their devotion to their students stating that Michael always encouraged his students to give back to the community when they finish their education. "They were both the real deal. She was the most loving, kind, gentle, strong woman you could ever meet in your life," they expressed.

    The oldest of three girls born to Linda Schuessler and the late Peter J. Schuessler, Jillian graduated from Bishop Stang in 1995. She will always be remembered as an active student, participating in many activities. Jillian was a member of the tennis team, the ski club and Students Against Destructive Decisions at Stang and was also a member of the school's basketball team for three years and the field hockey team for two years. Besides her mother, Jillian Casey's survivors include two sisters, Amanda Dodge of Gallon Jug, Belize, and Melissa Schuessler of Providence.

    Mike was a Lasalle graduate who recently took over as president of the local organization, World's Window, Incorporated in Albany, a charity that has ties around the world. The organization is involved in a huge variety of projects in several regions of the world focusing on Health, Education, the creation of Self Sustaining Communities and Empowerment for all people. At the time of his death, Mike was waiting to hear from SUNY-Albany about his graduate degree in Administration.

    The couple enjoyed their work in Belize, commenting that they were not concerned about the financial aspects of what they were doing, but were concerned about the social aspects of what they were doing. He stated once, "We came to Belize for an opportunity to teach outside our country of the United States. We also came here to meet other ethnic groups and to see the rainforest of Belize. Belize still has 70% of its rainforests left to be explored and that attracted us."

    The couple shared their love of the country and its people with their two children Makayla, 3, and Bryce, 7 months. It is a terrible loss, a young family with such a promising life ahead, loved and adored by students and inspiration truly for us all. It is a loss shared around the world, their accomplishments and efforts to make the world a better place will not go unnoticed as others continue with their lives' work. The Gallon Jug institution will be renamed in their honor and forever their names will be etched in Belizean history. Rest in Peace Casey Family, thank you for the dedication you gave to our children and know that you will be forever missed.

San Pedro Sun

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