DUXBURY, Vt. — In the small, close-knit towns of Vermont, one untimely death devastates a town; five is unthinkable. But that is what this community is facing after five local teenagers were killed in a wrong-way driver crash Saturday night.
Nearly everyone in town seemed to have known the students; they were friends, relatives, neighbors, teammates.
Governor Peter Shumlin told a crowd of more than 1,000 gathered on the high school soccer field Monday night that it was the saddest day of his six years as governor.
“There are no words to express the extraordinary sadness of this moment,” Shumlin told the group that had assembled with less than a day’s notice at the school where four of the five were juniors. “But what we can rejoice in is that we have this extraordinary community.”
The five died Saturday night heading home from a concert in South Burlington, Vt.
Steven Bourgoin, driving north in the southbound lanes of Interstate 89, hit their Volkswagen Jetta on Interstate 89 in Williston, Vt., according to the police. He hit seven vehicles and injured 10 other people on the highway after he stole a police cruiser and continued driving the wrong way, officials said. No charges have yet been filed.
The crash victims were Mary Harris, of Moretown; Cyrus Zschau, of Moretown; Liam Hale, of Fayston; Janie Cozzi, of Fayston; and Eli Brookens, of Waterbury. All were 16.
All except Cozzi attended Harwood Union High School in Moretown, where counselors and staff were on site Monday meeting with students, even though the school was closed.
Students are set to return to school Tuesday, where they will have a special schedule to allow time for processing the deaths.
“It’s going to be one step at a time, moving forward,” said school Superintendent Brigid Scheffert Nease.
It seemed the web of grief touched most people up and down Route 100 Monday, where the leaves are turning shades of crimson and orange along one of Vermont’s most scenic byways.
“We’re tight; we’re tight,” said Erica Stroem, a Waitsfield resident who came to the vigil and stood near the back. “The ripple through the community, you could feel the energy change; it’s very intense.”
Gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter’s son knew the boys who died. So did the gas station attendant in Fayston, whose daughter goes to Harwood Union.
The owner of Gracie’s Kitchen in Waitsfield, Vt., said her son woke up Sunday morning to texts from his friends about the crash.
‘Life is that tragedy happens, and it’s the response that shows the strength of the community.’Alison McHugh, vigil organizer
One local state representative said he played baseball with the father of one boy.
A clerk at the local supermarket, Mehuron’s, said most people who saw each other in the aisles Monday didn’t need words.
“Lots of hugging, a lot of crying,” said cashier Ryan Sharlow.
Zschau was a player on the school’s varsity soccer team and worked at the Canteen Creemee Company in Waitsfield. The stand’s owner, Charlie Menard, served free soft-serve cones to everyone on Monday.
A sign out front had a pink heart around the word “Cyrus’’ and told people to give each other hugs. Menard had written Cyrus’s name on the side of the paper hat he wore as he served cones.
Zschau had been scheduled to work a double shift Sunday and had even texted Menard Saturday on his way home from the concert before his car was hit, his boss said.
“In a small town, you know everybody,” Menard said as the soccer teammates arrived for cones. “It’s just nice to see them together.”
Monday’s match was canceled but the students gathered anyway to kick balls around and be together.
“At a school like this, you’re friends with everybody,” said assistant soccer coach Joe Yalicki.
At the vigil Monday night, many students saw each other for the first time since the accident, their eyes still wet and red as they gathered each other in hugs, padded by big blankets they had brought to keep warm.
The school has about 750 students, but more than 1,000 people came to the vigil.
Wiping tears from his eyes, Darrell Mays, the uncle of Mary Harris, climbed the podium stairs to speak before the crowd, first making the sign of the cross.
“My heart is hurting so much right now,” Mays said.
Alison McHugh organized Monday evening’s vigil with her husband, Patrick, and daughter Bailey, a sophomore.
“The magnitude of the reach of this horrific tragedy is beyond belief,” McHugh said. “This is life. Life is that tragedy happens, and it’s the response that shows the strength of the community.”
Also there was John Grenier, who graduated from Harwood in 1995 and went to school with the mothers of two of the victims.
“This is a community that rallies around its families,” he said. “All you can do is kind of come out and support each other.”