ATHENS – Hundreds of University of Georgia students and employees gathered at multiple vigils Thursday evening to mourn the loss of the UGA students involved in a Wednesday night car crash that left four of them dead and one in critical condition.
Like an impromptu vigil in the early afternoon, an evening service at UGA was full of emotion, made even more impactful by comments from fellow students, sorority sisters and family members who knew the women involved in the crash.
“To end this year this way is so painful,” said Houston Gaines, UGA’s student government president. “We lost four incredibly strong, inspirational women last night and are fighting for the other in the hospital.”
Kayla Canedo, 19, of Alpharetta; Brittany Feldman, 20, of Alpharetta; Christina Semeria, 19, of Milton; and Halle Scott, 19, of Dunwoody all died. The driver of the car, Agnes Kim, 21, of Snellville, was in critical condition Thursday at Athens Regional Medical Center.
UGA President Jere Morehead began the service that lasted about an hour. Loud sobs from the crowd could be heard as he read aloud each of the five students names and hometowns.
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“At this time of great sorrow, let us all draw together as members of the university community.” Morehead said. “The University of Georgia is a family that cares about each other and tonight is a time to show that we care.”
Several students who knew the women during and before college addressed the crowd.
Matthew Jordan attended Milton High School with Christina, Brittany and Kayla. The latter two played softball with his older sister on the school’s softball team. He remembered attending scary movies with the three in high school, how Christina led the worship service and played her guitar at senior baccalaureate and Kayla’s sometimes quiet personality.
“It’s unreal,” Jordan said. “Today’s been a tough day.”
All four of the students were sorority members, and their sisters were the first to speak and some of the last to leave the vigil.
“My world shattered last night,” said Courtney White, chapter president of Alpha Chi Omega sorority, of which Christina and Kayla were members. “Those two girls were life-lovers. If anything can bring peace of mind, it’s knowing these two met Jesus together.”
UGA will hold its annual vigil next week (Tuesday) for members of the university community who died during the school year. With Wednesday’s deaths, the crowd is expected to be larger than the chapel can hold this year, so the location is likely to change.
Throughout all of the mourning, one student reminded the crowd to remember their friends and their goodness.
“I believe,” she said. “When the breeze comes, that’s their presence.”
'It takes a toll on everyone'
More students gathered later Thursday night for a vigil at The Lodge At Athens, an apartment complex close to campus and popular with UGA students.
None of the students involved in the crash lived at the complex, but most of the apartment’s tenants are UGA students, said Helen Williams and Clay McElroy, who work at The Lodge, and organized the service.
“It’s Bulldog Nation; it’s all of us,” Williams said. “Just because they were not our students doesn’t mean they were not our family.”
Williams and Clay, along with UGA students employed at the complex spread the word about the vigil on social media. One hundred candles were lit inside white paper bags, lighting up the center of the complex.
“UGA is such a large school, but when something like this happens it affects us all. It takes a toll on everyone,” said sophomore Shelby Phillips. “This (vigil) helps people that did or did not know (the five students) take everything in and talk about it with other people.”
Hundreds of quiet prayers
The day ended with a prayer vigil at the Young Life building, where Agnes Kim is a popular volunteer.
The little building holds perhaps 250, but there were several hundred young people there. They sat on the sprawling floor shoulder to shoulder with those standing, reaching all the way to the front door.
The center's metro director Bart Scarborough stood in front of the group.
"We wanted to provide a place where we could be together and pray, be together and mourn, be together and cry," he said. "Be together to beg the lord for Agnes."
He said those here could pray anyway they like,d and he read The Lord's Prayer, emphasizing the lines about God restoring people's soul.
And then, when he was done, the murmurs of hundreds of quiet prayers filled the place.