VERO BEACH, Fla. — A day after a deadly car crash that split their lives apart, Grace Rett’s family returned to the water. That’s where Rett loved to be.
Just across from the Vero Beach Rowing Club, the family climbed into a launch boat late Thursday afternoon as the sun glinted off the lagoon. Rett’s younger sister, Brianne, who is still in high school, wore a purple Holy Cross sweatshirt and clutched a pink teddy bear. The boat sliced through the basin, past clusters of lush mangroves and oyster-studded wooden posts, into the clear, calm water beyond.
“I think it was visiting places where Grace had most recently been,” said the Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, the president of the College of the Holy Cross, where Rett was a sophomore and record-breaking rower. Stephanie Ricker, an associate head coach for the Holy Cross women’s rowing team, had offered to show the family where their daughter’s team had been practicing before the tragic crash.
The crash killed Rett, who had just turned 20 and was riding in the front passenger seat, and injured 12 others, including both drivers. Seven people remain in the hospital, including Patrick Diggins, the director of rowing at Holy Cross and the head coach of the women’s team, who was driving the van at the time of the accident.
Diggins told the Rev. Jim Hayes, a Holy Cross chaplain who traveled to Florida this week to be with the survivors and their families, that he would not be able to fly back to Massachusetts when he gets out of the hospital because of his injuries, Hayes said. Even so, he was determined to make it to Rett’s funeral, the chaplain said.
Family and friends reminisced about Rett’s kindness and resolve in the days after her death.
“Grace will always be in the hearts of everyone she knew,” Brianne Rett wrote in an e-mailed statement. “I’m sure she is already pulling a power ten up there in her boat in heaven.”
Holy Cross identified the other survivors of the crash who are still hospitalized as Paige Cohen, Anne Comcowich, Maggie O’Leary, Bianca McIver, and Hannah Strom, in addition to Diggins. The victims suffered brain injuries and serious pelvic and abdominal injuries, according to a trauma surgeon at Lawnwood Medical Center & Heart Institute, where they are being treated. A seventh rower, Maegan Moriarty, was discharged from the hospital on Thursday, according to the college. One survivor still remains unconscious at the hospital, though that person has not been identified.
In the hospital, the teammates are “heartbroken,” Boroughs said.
“They wanted to see each other and talk to each other as quickly as they could,” he said, adding that because some are in bed and in casts, they have been texting from room to room to check up on each other.
The Vero Beach community has responded to the tragedy with an outpouring of food and support, including offers for families visiting from Massachusetts to stay in their homes, Boroughs said. Hotel staff left notes in the rooms of the families who had traveled to Florida to be with their daughters.
On Friday morning, the city of Vero Beach wrapped purple ribbons around several of the light posts on the Barber Bridge; the crash took place at the intersection at its base. Darrell Rivers, a spokesman for the Vero Beach Police Department, climbed onto a crane and affixed a teddy bear to one of the posts.
“We’re Holy Cross strong,” he said.
Boroughs held a private mass for Rett’s family in their hotel room in Vero Beach on Friday morning, he said. He described the family as “people of very strong faith” in deep grief.
“This is a time when we believe Grace is at peace. We believe that it’s our loss,” Boroughs said the family told him.
On Friday afternoon, the family, along with Boroughs and Hayes, boarded an eight-seater plane lent by one of the college’s trustees to make their way back to Massachusetts. Rett’s mother wore a gray Holy Cross rowing t-shirt and wiped the tears from her eyes as she walked toward the plane.