WALLA WALLA — One student ran out of the building, holding back tears.
She was chased down by a friend before collapsing against a brick wall and sobbing as her friend tried to comfort her.
Others sat in small groups, remembering the dead and sometimes letting out small laughs as they remembered the good times. And some sat by themselves or with a counselor, talking through their grief.
That was the scene Tuesday morning at the library of a Walla Walla high school as students and counselors gathered to cope with the loss of three students — sophomores Aidan Boede, 17, and Uziel Bermoy, 16, and 15-year-old freshman Athena Bentley — who died in a car crash early Sunday along Mill Creek Road.
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The Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office says it will use computer models to try to determine the cause of the crash. Chief Deputy John King said deputies trained as collision reconstructionists will work with computers to determine speed and other factors relating to the wreck.
The teens appeared to have been wearing seat belts, King said, but it remained unclear who was driving.
An autopsy scheduled for Tuesday was expected to help identify the driver, according to King, and toxicology reports should determine whether alcohol was a factor in the collision.
“We have a lot of sadness, a lot of disbelief,” said Angela Gardea, a counselor at Pioneer Middle School. “A lot of these younger students, for some of them this is perhaps the first death (of someone) they’ve ever known.”
Students on Sunday evening held a flagpole vigil at the high school to commemorate the students, and counselors were available on the Monday holiday in the school commons, for students who needed them.
In addition to talking with counselors, students wrote notes to the dead students’ families, and in some cases to the students themselves.
“A lot of variation of grief and happy memories,” Gardea said. “Every once in a while you’ll hear kids kind of laughing about something that they remembered about the person that was good. It’s going to take a lot of healing — they were just three very well-loved students here.”
Aidan was a three-sport athlete, participating in football, track and wrestling. Wrestling Coach Dallas Jones remembered him as a student who brought joy to others.
“One thing about Aidan, I don’t think I ever saw him without a smile on his face,” Jones said. “He was a happy-go-lucky kid.”