October 19, 2012
Under sheltering pine trees on a quiet edge of the Woodland Park High School campus, a small shrine sits. It consists of three wooden lattices, each bearing a name: Alex, Paul and Nick.
On each lattice hangs a Boy Scout neckerchief and an American flag. Ribbons are tied to some slats, which are decorated with beads, stickers and are inscribed with words of inspiration.
The shrine honors three Boy Scouts — Alex Ragan, Paul Kekich and Nick Naples — who died June 30 in a head-on wreck in Wyoming, along with an adult Scout volunteer and a Florida boy, as they drove home from summer camp.
The shrine was erected by grieving friends and relatives. Students say it is a soothing reminder of their friends, who attended the school.
What’s not soothing, students and parents of the boys say, is a decision by the school district to remove the shrine.
“This whole thing is ludicrous,” said Cindy Ragan, mother of Alex, who was a pole vaulter, a marching band drum major and a trumpet player who hoped to attend the Air Force Academy.
“First, the district moved the shrine from in front of the school and relocated it to a remote spot,” Cindy said. “Then they ordered it be taken down before the first football game. Then they say it must come down by Nov. 2. I don’t see what the memorial is hurting.”
That sentiment was echoed by students I spoke to, including Alex’s best friend, Travis Weaver, a senior at the school.
“I would definitely say it’s comforting,” Travis said of the shrine, which is sheltered by a small roof held up by a couple posts. Solar-powered bulbs light it at night.
“All three of those boys meant a lot to everyone here,” he said. “It’s nice to have something to see as a memory.”
Travis said students stop and sit at the memorial. It brings back fond memories of the boys.
The decision to remove it is re-opening wounds, Travis said.
“It’s upsetting to know it’s being moved,” he said. “I’d feel better knowing it’s always there. It’s important to have it there, at least for the school year.”
Cindy said she and the parents of Paul and Nick met Thursday with school district officials including Superintendent Jed Bowman and Amy Nieman, school board president. They discussed the memorial and the parents protested plans for its removal.
Cindy came away unsure of the future of the memorial, especially given a recent board decision to enact a policy limiting temporary memorials to 10 days.
“I kept asking why they want to take them down,” she said. “In the past, they said they’ve consulted with grief counselors in creating their policy. But it makes no sense.”
I tried to reach Bowman and Nieman and other district officials Friday but my calls weren’t returned.
Cindy said the district never suggested students were being traumatized by the sight of the memorials.
“If students are too upset by looking at the memorial, I’d be the first one to say take it down,” she said. “But they never brought up any complaints.”
District officials, Cindy said, suggested the parents should appreciate the other ways the school is honoring the memories of their sons with pages in the yearbook, tribute patches worn on the uniforms of the softball team and especially by the marching band, which leaves the drum major podium empty at every performance in honor of Alex.
“We appreciate all that totally,” Cindy said. “All we’re asking is to leave the memorial in place.”
They also want the district to erect in the school a shadow box tribute to Paul Kekich donated by George Washington High School in Denver.
“I can’t believe we’ve been fighting about this since the first day of school,” Cindy said. “I don’t understand why it’s even an issue. All they have to do is show some compassion.”