Local high schoolers grapple with sudden deaths of Harwood students in crash
ADDISON COUNTY — In the past two weeks, black and gold became temporary colors of choice for many Addison County students, teachers and school employees.
Sadly, it was not a fashion trend: They were rallying around their peers at South Duxbury’s Harwood Union High School, who are reeling after the unspeakable Oct. 8 tragedy that claimed the lives of four current and one former Harwood students, all either 15 or 16.
Black and gold are Harwood’s school colors.
Steven Bourgoin, 36, of Williston has been charged with murder after he crashed his vehicle into the teens’ car while driving the wrong way on Interstate 89 in Williston just before midnight on Oct. 8.
At Middlebury Union High School, many students signed a poster of support, while teachers and staff members made what Activities Director Sean Farrell called “a significant amount of baked goods.” Farrell delivered both the food and poster to Harwood on Oct. 13.
In addition, the Tiger boys’ soccer and hockey teams mailed cards of support, girls’ soccer and field hockey teams wore black and gold ribbons, and the cross-country team brought a card with them to the Harwood Invitational race on Oct. 15. Tiger runners also competed in black and gold face paint and chanted the Harwood cheer, not their own, before races that Saturday.
At the end of racing on that day, the Tiger runners joined their peers from Vergennes, Mount Abraham and several other schools in a mass chant for Harwood that included the first names of the five victims: Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury; Janie Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston; Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown; and Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown.
MUHS Coach Chris Anderson described an emotional day in South Duxbury.
“A lot of the Harwood students were upset and showing that. But I think everyone was very respectful of the situation and very supportive,” Anderson said.
At Vergennes Union, students gathered in the school gym on the morning of Oct. 14 for a school-wide photo. That effort was suggested by senior Eva Kamman, who said it was in turn proposed by a fellow member of the Vermont Interscholastic Council, an Essex student. Similar pictures were taken at Essex, Champlain Valley Union and Rice Memorial high schools, she said.
Kamman said she was in an Oct. 12 senior class meeting with Principal Stephanie Taylor and class advisors when the proposal came through social media, and she brought the idea up.
“At the end of the meeting I went up to the front,” she said. “Everybody seemed to be into it.”
Taylor signed off, and Kristine Kirkaldy, a teacher and class and yearbook advisor, agreed to take the photo.
On that Friday morning, a sea of black and gold raised their hands to make heart shapes in the school gym.
Kamman credited the students with putting a lot of effort and thought into clothing to support Harwood with just 36 hours to prepare.
“Everybody just came together. It was amazing,” she said. “It was really impressive.”
VERGENNES UNION HIGH School students, faculty and staff wore black and gold and gathered for a photo last week to show support for the Harwood community after the tragic loss of five Harwood students in a crash on Interstate 89. Photo by Kristine Kirkaldy
Kamman said students empathized with their peers’ loss. They also knew, she said, an incredibly painful tragedy like that which struck the greater Harwood community could happen anywhere.
“It happened to a Vermont high school, and it’s a small state,” she said. “I’m very glad it wasn’t Vergennes, but it could happen here really easily, and it’s kind of scary.”
Kamman emailed several pictures to a Harwood administrator, and Kamman said she received a swift and grateful response saying the outpouring of support from VUHS, Mount Abraham, MUHS and many other schools around the state was much appreciated.
“She said it helps them move forward from this tragedy,” Kamman said.
At Mount Abraham, Dean of Students Justin Bouvier took similar pictures from the balcony overlooking the school’s front lobby. In one, about 150 students and staff members spelled out “H.U.” for Harwood Union in black and gold. In the other photo more than 40 teachers formed a black and gold heart.
Mount Abe sports teams got into the spirit with ribbons and armbands. Three of the Harwood victims were soccer players, and their loss was especially felt in what Mount Abe boys’ soccer coach Mike Corey called the small, tight-knit soccer community.
Corey said he and his team talked at length about the impact of the accident on Harwood students and families.
Corey also said he knows well of similar losses: During the late 1950s and 1960s, five teens in his Proctor hometown died in separate accidents, and two of the victims were close to him.
“When we got together before that practice on that Monday I said I’m sure you all heard all about the tragic event this weekend. How are you feeling about that?” Corey said. “So we just talked about how things can happen in the blink of an eye that are totally unexpected, and just appreciating each other every day and that kind of dialogue.”
Corey said his team, a group he has described this fall as particularly close, felt both deep empathy for those affected in the Harwood area, and a sense of what something similar might mean to their own community.
“Clearly the idea I floated in our discussion is can you imagine how your parents would feel if something like this happened to you. We had a very somber, in-depth discussion of the wide-ranging impact,” he said. “To some degree it looked like they were having a real intimate experience with the event … It was reflective and somber.”
Corey, from experience, believes he knows why the late-night tragedy has struck such a chord around Vermont and with so many students.
“It’s, I’m mortal. Me, a 16-year-old kid, I can die. And I can die suddenly without warning,” Corey said. “It’s stuff they don’t think about. And I think that’s what really strikes them.”