Hundreds of people gathered at Harwood Union High School in Moretown Monday evening to remember five students killed in a weekend car crash caused by a wrong-way driver.
“There’s no word or cliché that can make up the difference, but we hope that our presence here will be the support that can help you when it gets too hard to do it on your own,” said Patrick McHugh, a Waterbury resident and parent of a Harwood teenager who helped organize the vigil.
“We just want to take a moment and read the names of those that we loved, and those that will forever be in our hearts: Janie, Mary, Eli, Liam and Cyrus,” McHugh said, his voice cracking slightly.
The five teenagers killed were Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown; Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston; Janie Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; and Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury. All but Cozzi, who attended Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire, were students at Harwood Union High School.
They died after a pickup truck traveling the wrong way on I-89 in Williston collided with their car.
Prosecutors are investigating the incident as a homicide. They say the driver Steven Bourgoin, 36, will be initially charged with a felony and a misdemeanor as a result of a series of accidents early Sunday morning.
But on Monday night, the thoughts were with the victims and their families as the Mad River Valley community gathered together in collective mourning.
Gov. Peter Shumlin called it the saddest day in his six years as governor.
“It seems inconceivable that five, beautiful Vermonters, who were moving from childhood to adulthood with such grace and dignity, were taken from us,” he said.
Student Bailey McHugh said the tragedy touches everybody in the valley, where kids often stay with the same friends through all 12 years of school.
“I went to elementary school with a couple of them, and just met some of the other ones through friends,” she said. She then added with a laugh: “But I know I could always count on Mary for a high five in the hallway or Eli to say something stupid in band about what Mr. Rivers said.”
Darrel Mays, the uncle of one of the students who was killed, urged the crowd to remember them by living the rest of their life in their memory.
“This time, everyone is just in shock. I don’t think we’ve taken a moment to feel grief, hardly. I know I haven’t. I’ve just had a headache for days,” he said.
“Tomorrow is going to be a hard time for all you kids going to school," Mays said. "Be thankful for your friends. Feel blessed that you got to live today. Do your best. Live a great life. That’s what you can do for your friends who died.”
The crowd was silent as hundreds held candles in the growing chill and as students sent lighted paper lanterns aloft to drift in the breeze.