Sipping coffee, petting therapy dogs and leaning into tearful embraces, grief-stricken Warwick High School students found solace in each other’s company Saturday, a day after a classmate died in a horrific, multi-car crash outside the school.
Jack R. Nicholson, 16, of Newport Road, Warwick Township, was injured and died in surgery at 4:52 p.m. Friday. A junior, Nicholson planned to wrestle this season, a GoFundMe website page says.
Meanwhile, Meghan Keeney, a junior who plays field hockey, remained in the hospital Saturday with severe injuries, according to another GoFundMe page. It said she was “fighting for her life.”
Student Rylan Beebee was also in the hospital Saturday after the eight-vehicle collision. A GoFundMe page described him as selfless, courageous and strong.
With rain falling at midnight Saturday, some 200 students, educators, pastors and others held a vigil in the high school's auditorium lobby.
Then Saturday morning, counselors, pastors, educators and police officers gathered with students, individually and in groups, at the high school.
"Makes no sense"
“There was just a real palpable sense that this (tragedy) makes no sense,” said Emily Myallis, a Lutheran deacon whose therapy dog, Miracle, offered warmth and affection. “I didn’t feel any real anger. It was just heavy, that they (the student victims) didn’t do anything wrong.”
Police said a 63-year-old woman, driving erratically, crashed and flipped her car into vehicles in the 200 block of West Orange Street at 3:19 p.m. Friday.
On Saturday morning, students gathered in the high school cafeteria, where coffee, pretzels and whoopie pies were available. They were encouraged to write messages on big sheets of paper. The theme was red and black, Warwick’s colors.
Tears flowed when Nicholson’s parents arrived, and the boy’s mother, Donna Nicholson Stief, spoke briefly to the group, Myallis said.
“His mother was encouraging people to be good to one another,” Myallis said. “She repeated that more than once, and through a lot of tears she expressed very strongly her belief that her son knew Jesus, and although this is hard on us, he is where he is supposed to be.”
At another point, members of the field hockey team entered the cafeteria.
“Everyone surrounded them, and there was a lot of crying,” Myallis said. “One pastoral leader opened it up for prayer and allowed others to offer prayers.”
“Then he encouraged folks to give hugs, and so that continued for close to 10 minutes,” she said.
On Twitter, the field hockey team said they are “praying for one of our own, and we hope each of you that read this can send more prayers tonight. #33.”
Keeney wore No. 33.
At a field hockey playoff game against Northern York on Saturday afternoon, Donegal players wrapped red tape emblazoned with No. 33 around their sticks. Jess Shellenberger, Donegal’s coach, had played for Warwick, and she wore her Warwick jacket.
At the high school Saturday morning, at least a half dozen members of Keystone Pet Enhanced Therapy Services met with students, allowing their trained dogs to be a comforting presence.
Kurtis Zimmerman of TNT Youth Ministry attended the late-night vigil and sensed that students felt bewildered, “wanting to be part of it, but not sure what to do with it.”
"We have been telling (the teens) they are loved, and we want to support them," Zimmerman said. "We don't understand why this happened, but they are valued and loved."
The Rev. Robert Myallis of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Lititz said people around town want to help, “and unfortunately there’s not much we can do.”
“Somebody made a terrible mistake and it cost another person’s life,” he said. As of Saturday afternoon, police have not said they've filed charges against anyone.
On Friday, Emily Myallis set up a memorial on the church lawn, which faces the crash site. It featured a cross on the grass, backed by a white lattice fence panel decked with flowers.
She left markers for mourners to write messages and zip ties to attach items to the lattice.
On Saturday afternoon, mother and daughter Teresa and Emily Skidmore placed flowers at the memorial.
“It's just very emotional, because it could have been anybody,” Emily, a 15-year-old Warwick sophomore, said.
“That's the worst part,” her mother said, adding: “It's devastating.”
Emily said she knows Meghan Keeney because she’s friends with her sister. “She's so kind,” she said.
Staff writers Tim Stuhldreher and Diana Pugliese contributed to this story.