About 1,000 people gathered on Harwood Union High School’s soccer field Monday evening for a vigil to remember five students killed by a wrong way driver on Interstate 89 this past weekend. The governor of Vermont was one of mourners.
On Sunday, word spread in central Vermont that five teenagers from the Waterbury region had been killed in a traffic collision. An arrest warrant was formally issued Monday for 36-year-old Steven Bourgoin. He reportedly was traveling north in the southbound lane of the highway when he struck the car the teenagers were in, engulfing it in flames. As the first police officer on the scene tried to put out the fire, Bourgoin stole his cruiser and struck seven more vehicles, causing multiple injuries before police caught him.
The five victims were 16-year-olds Mary Harris, Cyrus Zschau, Liam Hale, and Eli Brookens, and 15-year-old Janie Cozzi. They were returning home from a concert in Burlington. Four attended the Harwood Union High School in Moretown; one attended a private school in New Hampshire.
At dusk on Monday nearly 1,000 people gathered on the school’s soccer field.
Friend and minister Patrick McHugh says his daughter asked what could they do to help the families and the vigil was organized. He had a similar experience years ago when friends were killed by a drunk driver. “When we went through this it was very similar, just, it seems so senseless. My son is named after one of our great friends who passed away tragically. And still we wonder when we tuck him in and you know why isn't our great friend here with us? And even with a faith and with a hope it is difficult. And so we came to stand with them because five lives did stop. But for all of the students here at Harwood Union and all of the families that this affects there is a future and it's re-learning how to live. It's how to support each other, how to love.”
McHugh then stepped onto a small platform to begin the vigil. “I think it's with a collective broken heart that we're all here tonight. We just want to take a moment to read the names of those that we loved and those that will be forever in our hearts. Janie, Mary, Eli, Liam and Cyrus.”
“There are no words to express the extraordinary sadness of this moment.” Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin offered condolences to the families and community. “You know I've had the privilege of being governor for six years and this is the saddest moment. It seems inconceivable that five beautiful Vermonters who were moving from childhood to adulthood with such grace and dignity were taken from us.”
The only family member who spoke was Mary Harris’ uncle Darrell Mays. “My heart is hurting so much and I know so many people's hearts are hurting also. There's a lot of people saying that you know the person who did this, how could they do this? Vengeance does no good. Think of these families, these children, our community. These next weeks and months will be very difficult. 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.”
As darkness overtook the valley and music played in the background classmates lit and released lanterns. Drifting into the moonlit sky, they resembled an orange-red heart hovering above the school and the crowd before floating into the night.
Harwood Union High Sophomore Bobby Kelly: “The love for each other that we have at Harwood and in this community in general is something that you're not going to find anywhere else. We’ll always miss Janie, Cyrus, Eli, Mary and Liam. But we'll always love them as well. And through all this tragedy and just awfulness we’ll heal together.”
“My name is Bailey McHugh. I'm a sophomore here at Harwood. I know I could always count on Mary for a high five in the hallway or for Eli to say something stupid in band about well Mr. Rivers said. Um, these people have touched all of our lives in one way or another and that's why we're all here tonight. We will always remember them and I know that they were some, some really great people.”
A memorial space has been set up in Harwood Union High School and students and staff returning to classes on Tuesday will be given the time and space they need to deal with the tragedy. Police continue to investigate the crash.