GARDNER — Colby O’Brien was sweet and quiet, “a good little guy” who was close with his twin sister and loved to watch movies at his afterschool program at the Elm Street School, his friends said Friday.
Colby’s friends and others in Gardner were grieving a day after the 8-year-old boy was killed when a large television and cart fell on him during an afterschool program.
In classrooms and beyond, tears flowed, and, at a makeshift shrine at the school, families gathered in collective grief.
Brandon Comley, who was in Colby’s class and afterschool program, said that before the accident Colby was doing “what he usually did,” sitting with his sister, waiting to watch “Toy Story 2.”
Brandon, who spoke with his mother’s permission, said he left just 10 minutes before the accident, but said none of his friends who were there knew how it happened.
“Nobody was really looking,” Brandon, 9, said after dismissal at the school, which is attended by 518 students in grades 3 through 5. “They just heard a bang and then saw Colby with the TV on top of him on the floor.”
One parent described the televisions in the afterschool program as big, old-
fashioned boxy sets placed on tall metal carts.
The office of Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. declined to release further details about what led to Colby’s death. School officials declined to comment Friday.
Colby’s family asked for privacy.
Brandon said Colby loved to be pushed on the swings and did not talk much, except to his sister. The little girl was in school Friday, he said.
“She didn’t talk to anybody and was sad and cried,” said Brandon, who spoke quietly and leaned into his mother as he spoke. “My whole class cried.”
Throughout the day, mourners arrived at the school in a steady stream, placing stuffed animals, bouquets, candles, and handmade cards in the snow to form the memorial. Some kneeled and prayed, their breath fogging in the cold air. Others simply stood and cried.
Dylan and Benjamin Mercier, ages 10 and 5, left their own toys — a stuffed tiger and dog, and red Valentine’s Day tinsel — at the shrine and stood hugging their mother as their father, David Mercier, took in the scene.
“I just asked them to choose something from the bottom of their hearts,” David Mercier said. Dylan, he said, knew Colby and was in the afterschool program with him, though he was not there Thursday evening.
Mercier said his son was shocked when he learned his friend had been killed.
“He goes, ‘Oh, my God, daddy, not that little boy, no, not that little boy,’ ” Mercier said. “He says, ‘Oh, my God, he’s just a little squirt of a guy.’ ”
The Merciers kept Dylan home from school Friday, but wanted to pay their respects by coming to the memorial.
Grief counselors were on hand to help students, parents, and members of the community work through the tragedy. Still, some relatives came to the school to pick their children up early.
Linda LaFreniere, 72, said she came to pick up her 10-year-old grandson, Nathan, because he was overwhelmed, although he did not know Colby.
“It’s just a really sad thing,” LaFreniere said. “It’s hard to stop thinking about the family. You just don’t ever expect anything like that when you drop your kids off.”
Many who stopped by the shrine through the day said that being able to leave little tokens and say a few quiet words were important parts of healing.
“A tragedy like this hits the whole community,” said Shirley Atkinson, 52, who wept as she placed a teddy bear covered in hearts on the pile. Her grandson, she said, went to summer camp with Colby, whom she described as a playful child.
Candles burned at the shrine despite the chilly wind. As the day wore on, people added sweet personal tokens: a masked action figure, a bag of Skittles, a copy of the movie “Aquamarine,” about two teenagers who discover a mermaid, with a message written in marker: “Colby, this is for you. I’ll never forget you. I miss you!”
Patricia Brown said she spent the morning crying and finally walked to the shrine from her home across the street to nestle a lime green monkey in with the other stuffed animals.
“Nothing ever happened like this in Gardner before,” she said. “He was only 8.”