An evening of celebration and hope for the future turned somber as two Elmira teenagers were involved in a fatal car accident Oct. 22. The incident followed Elmira District Secondary School’s commencement ceremony, and students at the high school came together this week to support each other and grieve the loss.
“I heard the sirens on Friday night when I was cleaning up after commencement,” said EDSS vice-principal Dave Conlon. “One staff member said to me ‘I hope that’s not one of our kids,’ but it was.”
Around 10:30 p.m., Miles Hamilton, 18, was killed when the driver of the pickup truck he was riding in, 17-year-old Brendon Fitzgerald, lost control and collided with a parked vehicle on Barnswallow Drive in Elmira. Hamilton was pronounced dead at the scene. Fitzgerald was taken to Hamilton General Hospital with life-threatening injuries.
Hamilton attended EDSS until last June, and Fitzgerald is currently a student there in Grade 11.
A room across from the main office at EDSS has been cleared out and designated as a grieving room, a place where students and staff can come together to share in the sadness surrounding last week’s event.
“We opened the school last Sunday for two hours in the afternoon and we probably had more than 70 students come by,” said Conlon. “It was a moment for the kids to gather and the Hamilton family came as well. That was good for the kids to see and for the family to see how they are supported by the students and staff in the building.”
In the main display case at the school there are photos, notes, a favourite sweatshirt and other mementos in honour of Miles. In front of the display is a table with cards for students to sign to show their support for the Hamilton family and Fitzgerald, who remains in critical condition in hospital.
“When something like this happens, people can go through a number of stages of grieving.” said Debra Ruprecht, a staff member at Woolwich Counseling Services. “There is that initial shock, then denial, anger and frustration and sadness and everyone experiences those things in different ways and at different times.”
For EDSS students, simply a place to come together has been helpful, said Conlon.
“The kids need a place to gather and I think because of the nature of social networking right now, a lot of them were connecting through Facebook, but that’s not real connection,” he said. “The opportunity to come into the building and hug someone and to hold each other and cry and to share in the grief was important.”