A time to heal

By on October 31, 2018

The outpouring of love, unity and support among Lancaster County school students wearing red to honor the victims of Friday’s tragic scene at Warwick High School, underscored an emotional week for the Warwick community.

The heartbreaking, still unexplained, tragedy occurred when a driver plowed into several vehicles on West Orange Street just as students ended their day and were exiting Warwick High School.
Jack R. Nicholson and Meghan Keeney, both Warwick High School juniors, died as result of the crash. Nicholson, 16, died in surgery on Friday; Keeney died Sunday morning. A third student, identified only as a juvenile male, remains in the hospital. A GoFundMe page says high school student Rylan Beebe is in the ICU.

Though devastated Warwick School District officials have requested media not interview school staff through an appropriate grieving period, some have communicated through their personal social media pages. Warwick Athletic Director Ryan Landis posted an example on Facebook of the many counseling options launched over the weekend to help students cope with the pain and loss. Warwick High School’s innovative use of therapy dogs have been well received, he noted.

“Everywhere you look there is another (therapy dog) with kids gathered around or laying with them,” he wrote. Landis also suggested the dogs comfort both students and staff, who in turn cheer each other.

“There are a lot of emotions–crying, hugging, laughing at good times…sometimes all within seconds of each other,” Landis wrote. “Your kids are amazing. We left for school today with the task of comforting your kids, but the reality is they are comforting us just as much.”

Warwick Principal Kristy Szobocsan, who gave a touching speech before the crowd, hugs a parade goer at the Lititz Lions Halloween Parade Monday night.

A short time after Friday evening’s accident, a roadside memorial was placed in the front lawn of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church on West Orange Street. Featuring a cross on the grass in the front, a wooden lattice was filled with prayers, personal notes, messages, flowers, and mementos. Markers were also left for those that chose to leave short messages, and zip ties were also present so that those who wished to do so could affix items to the lattice.

Within a day, the entire structure was covered top to bottom. Since then, the memorial has served as a location to reflect, grieve, and a place to begin the healing process.

As the days went on, countless mourners have stopped by across all hours of the day and night. Seemingly by the minute schools from all over the area began posting social media photos of mass gatherings of students wearing red and black in support of Warwick.

These illuminated candles were used in the Lititz Lions Halloween Parade Monday evening.

They included Manheim Central, Linden Hall, Donegal, Ephrata, Elco, Garden Spot, Cocalico, Lancaster Catholic, Octorara, Hempfield, Penn Manor, Conestoga Valley, Elizabethtown, Lampeter-Strasburg Lancaster Country Day, Twin Valley, Pequea and many more.

Also posting support photos were individual school athletic teams and many local businesses. Annville-Cleona Athletic Director Tommy Long tweeted “Annville-Cleona Maintenance Department has the stadium field looking awesome for our @piaadistrict3 playoff game Friday. Including a small tribute to our friends @WarwickWarriors on our 33 yard lines.”

The Facebook and Twitter posts, fundraising benefits on behalf of the victims, and the campaign drive to wear red among the schools and community culminated with the gathering of a united, but somber Warwick community at the Lititz Lions Halloween Parade Monday night. Before that event, small, flameless candles were handed out to attendees to help light up the night &tstr;a tribute to the lives that were lost.

The reception was overwhelming.

A short time after Friday evening’s accident, a roadside memorial was placed in the front lawn of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church on West Orange Street.

“I think we had a little over 200, and they were gone within about 40 minutes,” said Kellye Martin of Lititz. All candles featured the hashtag “#WeAreWarwick” and were distributed in less than an hour.

Mark Hough, of the Lititz Lions Club, the event organizer, summed up the mood of the parade which became a tribute to those affected by the tragedy.

“Reflect on their lives and at the same time, try to still have fun for the younger kids who really don’t know what’s going on, that it can still be somewhat normal here in Lititz,” said Hough, who is also Warwick’s varsity softball coach.

Erick Oehme of Lititz spent the day Monday organizing a “Warwick Strong” float for that evening’s annual parade. As the flatbed truck came down Main Street during the event, attendees turned on flashlights, illuminated candles and their cellphones to light the path for the students who were onboard. Minutes after Lititz Police Chief Kerry Nye and a squad cruiser greeted the crowd, the Warwick Strong float paused in front of the judging stand at Main and Cedar Street. Warwick Principal Kristy Szobocsan made a brief but touching speech before the crowd.

Warwick High School’s innovative use of therapy dogs was well received.

“I want to thank everybody for coming out,” she said while fighting back tears. “But more importantly, I need to say thanks for being such an awesome community.” Szobocsan described the first day students returned to school &tstr; after a long, painful weekend eased a bit by Warwick counselling options that continue to be offered to help students cope with the loss.

“It was really a hard day today and without the love and support of the community, today would not have been possible,” she said. “These kids are amazing.” Szobocsan went on to praise Warwick students’ resilience and compassion under such traumatic and demanding circumstances.

Annville-Cleona Maintenance Department has the stadium field looking awesome for our @piaadistrict3 playoff game Friday. Including a small tribute to our friends @WarwickWarriors on our 33 yard lines

“They were so kind to each other and we’re going to need your love and support going forward,” she said. “Thank you all for giving and for continuing to give.” Hough explained how it was a difficult task in deciding to go forward with the parade.

“On behalf of the Lititz Lions Club, we really went back and fourth with a lot of heartfelt thoughts about whether or not we should do this tonight,” he told the crowd. Hough said the decision to hold the parade reflected the support for the three students involved in the horrible tragedy, whom he named.

“So in doing so, we honor Jack, Meghan and our prayers are with Rylan,” he said. A few tears were shed as Hough paused for a moment of silence. He then said “we’re Warwick Strong and we’ll be here for you guys,” before reading a note he’d been given by the students.

Seemingly by the minute on Monday and Tuesday, schools from all over the area began posting social media photos of mass gatherings of students wearing red and black in support of Warwick.

“We are Warwick Strong, our hearts may be broken but our spirit must go on,” the students on the float said in unison. Chief Nye noted this year’s parade was somewhat subdued but praised the Lititz Lions decision to go forward with the traditional event. “The small children still enjoyed the parade and I am glad the Lititz Lion’s Club held the parade,” he said. “All of the crowd was very respectful and the short talk that the principal gave was on point.

“The Department is proud to serve the Lititz community and we are doing our very best to complete this investigation in a timely manner.”

Patrick Burns is news editor, staff writer, and social media editor for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 717-721-4455 

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