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'A sacred space': local church announces plan for memorial honoring Warwick HS crash victims

For six months, a makeshift memorial for two Warwick High School students stood adorned with flowers and messages on the front lawn of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Lititz.

On Easter Sunday, the church removed the temporary memorial and announced plans to build a permanent structure — one that can be maintained and not get damaged or cracked, Rev. Robert Myallis said.

It will feature a patio, two benches and a dogwood tree. 

The church cared for the temporary memorial in remembrance of Meghan Keeney, 17, and Jack Nicholson, 16, who died in October after a multivehicle accident in front of the church, across from Warwick High School. 

Keeney and Nicholson were passengers in a car driven by Rylan Beebe, 17. The trio had just exited Warwick High School when a car driven by Debra Slaymaker-Walker, 63, allegedly hit several vehicles, went airborne and struck their car in the 200 block of West Orange Street last October.

Beebe was hospitalized with serious injuries and later returned home to recover.

‘Communal loss’

The memorial, across the street from Warwick High School, was a place where the community came to grieve, and seeing the inscribed messages and people's prayers was “heartwarming, encouraging and at points emotionally difficult,” Myallis said.

“It was clear that the accident and deaths really exposed and revealed such a sense of collective and communal loss,” he said. “We felt we had an obligation to the community to offer a sacred space to remember the youth.”

The church plans to build a patio with two benches and plant a dogwood tree close to the main entrance at the front of the church — facing West Orange Street, said Douglas Minnich, church council member and project organizer.

Each bench will be inscribed with a student’s name and a Bible verses selected by the parents.

“The combination of the tree and benches would both honor the past and look to the future,” Myallis said.

Student involvement

The project is a church-driven endeavor, but was sparked by students who were close to Keeney and Nicholson, Minnich said.

The Warwick boys’ lacrosse team volunteered to help dig out the area for the patio.

Minnich also spoke to the parents during the planning process — giving them the opportunity to choose the Bible verses for the benches.

“Our family is grateful beyond words for the love and care expressed by St. Paul’s Church since this tragedy occurred,” Nicholson’s mother, Donna Nicholson Stief, said in a statement to LNP.

“We’re honored and humbled by the memorial they will be building in memory of our precious Jack and Meghan.”

The dedication of the memorial will take place at a church picnic on June 9.

Slaymaker-Walker, of Mount Joy, has been charged with third-degree murder, homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter and related offenses.