The death of six teenagers in an accident early Sunday morning was met by a full parking lot of cars outside of Willard K-8 School, as the building opened its doors for a community gathering to mourn.
"He'll be my baby forever," said Willard student Marteyna McMurdy about Daylan Ray, one of the six killed.
McMurdy and Kali Dorsey, also a Willard student, stopped by the makeshift memorial at the accident site on Pine Avenue with their godmother before heading to the school to receive counseling and comfort.
Willard K-8 School students Marteyna McMurdy and Kali Dorsey embrace Sunday at the site of the vehicle accident that claimed the lives of six Warren teenagers, several of whom they knew and went to school with. Their godmother leans over the makeshift memorial to read a handwritten note near the guardrail on Pine Avenue S.E. in Warren.
Tribune Chronicle / Margaret Thompson
"I'm so glad they were with me last night," said their godmother, who asked to remain anonymous, of the two girls as they embraced on the side of the road.
Eight teens were in the 1998 Honda Passport that veered off the left side of Pine S.E. near Burton about 7 a.m. Sunday, hit a guardrail and overturned, Highway Patrol Lt. Anne Ralston said.
The vehicle then became submerged on its roof in a pond. Two of the occupants went to a nearby residence to call 911. Warren city fire crews removed five victims from inside the vehicle. A sixth victim was ejected during the crash and was found under the vehicle when it was being removed from the water.
Ralston said she didn't know where the people in the SUV were headed.
The highway patrol received the first call on the crash at 7:15 a.m., Ralston said. Divers helped the patrol, and local police referred calls to the patrol as well.
Injured in the accident were Brian K. Henry, 18, and Asher C. Lewis, 15. Killed were Alexis Cayson, 19; Andrique Bennett, 14; Kirklan M. Behner, 15; Ray, 15; Brandon A. Murray, 17; and Ramone M. White, 15.
All of the victims were from Warren. Three of the victims attended Warren G. Harding High School, two attended Willard, and one was a former Harding student, according to Aaron Schwab, Warren City School's communications coordinator.
"We'll also have counselors available for students and staff," Schwab said, "first thing in the morning."
Students, parents and staff congregated in the building to listen to local pastors and talk with counselors. Many had fond stories to share about the victims as they consoled one another outside.
Taylor Schuman, a Warren student, said Ray was supposed to spend the night at her house Saturday but hadn't been able to come.
"He was my best friend," Schuman said, "he came over every summer."
Schuman remembered Ray as outgoing and humorous, similar to how Harding freshman Jamie Rolland remembered him.
"He was always cracking on somebody," Rolland said, "forever clowning on somebody."
Rolland had science class with Behner, who was known for being helpful. According to Willard sixth-grader Treona Crenshaw, it wasn't unusual for Behner to be shoveling snow or carrying groceries for anyone in need.
Crenshaw said Bennett was nicknamed "Butter."
"He was like an older brother," Crenshaw said. "He was my ride-or-die."
Trentatee Douglas, a seventh-grader at Willard, said Cayson was her godsister. While she didn't know Cayson very well, Douglas said she remembers her buying her ice cream whenever she would take her to the mall and that she was funny.
This is not the first large tragedy to strike the Warren school system. Just more than a year ago, on March 3, 2012, sisters Mari'Auna and Marniece Holmes, both students at Willard, died in a house fire on Austin Avenue.
"Unfortunately this is the third time we've been here in the last five years," Schwab said, "this building has a black cloud over it."
Eighth-grade classes at the school will be met this morning with counselors to cope with the situation. Additional counselors will be available at Harding.
According to Superintendent Michael Notar, the school felt it was necessary to respond immediately to the situation rather than wait until school opened today. Notar said the school met with Valley Counseling to set up the gathering at Willard and spoke with the teachers for an hour before letting students in Sunday evening.
"The immediate response is providing emotional support," Notar said. "You see students coming in and having someone to hug is most important."