Paper was taped to walls so visitors could write their thoughts.
One student admitted feeling worried about what it will feel like next week seeing the empty chair in class.
Another wrote that it all feels like a bad dream, but just never ends.
For more than two hours Thursday afternoon a steady stream of family, community members and loved ones made their way through the First Presbyterian Church to gather, grieve and support one another in dealing with five young lives taken too soon.
The gathering was quickly put together by several organizations, a handful of local churches and the Helena school district as a way for people to come together to remember five area teenagers killed early Sunday morning when the pickup truck they were in crashed on Keir Drive.
The crash took the lives of André D. Hartwig, 18, of East Helena; Beau A. Miller-Lopane, 18, of East Helena; Eric A. Prudhomme, 18, and his sister, Danielle R. Prudhomme, 15, of Helena; and Chanda M. Scarber, 18, of Helena.
Bobby Bourgeau, Kayla French and Amanda Lott knew most of the teens killed in the crash. Together they made a poster for Danielle.
“She was really outgoing,” Lott said. “She said what was on her mind and was really funny.”
The trio said the wreck gives them pause about their lives and the risks teenagers take.
“These bad things have happened, and it make makes me think twice about things,” French said.
Lott chimed in: “Like not getting into cars with people who are intoxicated.”
While the gathering was informal, there were resources available from St. Peter’s Hospice and the Center for Mental Health for anyone who needed help coping with the situation.
Kathy Shea with St. Peter’s Hospice said it was a telling detail when one of the young people visiting the scene not long after the crash was quoted in the Independent Record saying she wished school wasn’t on spring break so students could be together.
“That comment captures everything,” she said. “They (teenagers) have full awareness about what death means, but they have a strange sense of vulnerability.”
Shea says in school, many students find consistency.
“What I know about kids who are grieving is they grieve in the context of their peer group, not their family,” Shea said. “Although (family) is still important and needed, they grieve through contact with friends.”
Holding the gathering was an important part of providing that space for young people to come together.
Bruce Messinger, superintendent of Helena schools, said he recognized that they needed a place to connect.
Ty Johnson, 16, a sophomore at Capital High School, came with some friends to offer support, although he didn’t really know any of the crash victims. Johnson agreed that this week would be easier on his peers if school were in session.
“You could show more support,” he said. “We take it harder than adults because we are still young and vulnerable.”
Messinger said losing a friend when you’re young is something that stays with you forever.
“I remember losing two classmates like this when I was high school,” he said, adding that he clearly remembers all the details about the crash, the funerals and the grieving.
Lea Colvill, one of the organizers, said it also was important to provide a singular place for loved ones to gather.
“This is a place to be together with information, if wanted, about grief from mental health professionals and the hospice team,” she said.
More support will be in place for students once school resumes on Tuesday.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or email@example.com