'Grim Reaper' visits Mountain Valley High SchoolPublished on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 12:12 am | Last updated on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 1:01 am
RUMFORD — Sophomore John Freeman chose to act as one of the 18 “living dead” students at Mountain Valley High School on Tuesday because he knows how serious car accidents affect people.
“I know a family who experienced this," Freeman said. "I wanted to let my group of friends know what happens when (a serious accident) happens and how people feel."
Freeman and 17 other Mountain Valley students were escorted from their classrooms, one by one, every 15 minutes throughout the day by the Grim Reaper. Rumford police Sgt. Tracey Higley read an obituary about each person.
“Stephanie Garcia died while texting when she was driving home," Higley read. "She died in an auto accident. She was born on Feb. 2, 1994. She enjoyed cheerleading, camping, fishing and four-wheeling. She was a kind and caring person who was true to herself."
At the end of the obituary, Higley told the class of subdued students that they were invited to her “funeral” Wednesday morning at the high school.
The Every 15 Minutes program included the “living dead” dramatization and a mock two-car accident in which one student was “killed,” one “seriously injured,” another “slightly injured,” and the 18-year-old driver “arrested” for operating under the influence.
As the rain fell on students, staff, parents and friends, law enforcement officers from Rumford, Mexico, Maine State Police and the Oxford County Sheriff's Office, along with a hearse from a local funeral home, two Med-Care ambulances and firetrucks from Rumford and Mexico converged on the accident at the parking lot at the rear of the high school.
Sophomore Jordan True said the accident and everything surrounding it was scary. She said the Grim Reaper visiting a classroom across the hall and pulling a student out was "chilling."
Seniors Nick Hamel, Nick Williams and Eric Zurhorst said the day's events had a great impact on many students, particularly those who have been touched by a serious or fatal accident.
“There's still a few who don't care,” Williams said.
Rumford police Chief Stacey Carter said the number of drinking parties that occur prompted taking the next step in warning students about the dangers of drinking and driving.
“There's still a lot of people who think tragedy won't happen to them, but we want to show the consequences before they make decisions,” he said.
Counselors were on hand to talk with students who had a difficult time with either the accident or the “living dead” students who were taken from class. Several members of the clergy took turns escorting Mexico or Rumford police officers to the homes of students who were “dead.”
Math teacher Lisa Russell and Higley were co-coordinators of the event.
Both were pleased with how the events went and the impact they made on many students.
“Don't get in the car (if you or the driver is drinking)," Higley said. "Don't make us tell your parents you've been killed.”
The event Tuesday and the follow-up Wednesday are the result of hundreds of hours put in by scores of community members, teachers, other staff and emergency personnel.
Principal Matthew Gilbert said funds to carry out the two-day dramatization came from donations from the community.
Every 15 Minutes is part of the school's ongoing Keeping Students Safe program.
“We continue to reinforce the importance of making good decisions,” he said.
The students who were tapped by the Grim Reaper and six chaperons will spend the night in a Wilton hotel away from other classmates where they will work on team and trust building and hear two speakers.
On Wednesday morning, they will attend their “funerals” at a school-wide assembly.
Higley said he and dozens of others have been working on the Every 15 Minutes project for many months.