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SIDE STREETS: Show compassion to grieving families

By: BILL VOGRIN
October 31, 2012
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photo - The small lattice memorials are inscribed with the names of three Woodland Park High School students, Alex Ragan, Paul Kekich and Nick Naples, who died June 30 in a Wyoming car wreck as they returned from a Boy Scout camp.  Photo by The Gazette file
The small lattice memorials are inscribed with the names of three Woodland Park High School students, Alex Ragan, Paul Kekich and Nick Naples, who died June 30 in a Wyoming car wreck as they returned from a Boy Scout camp. Photo by The Gazette file 

This was supposed to be a triumphant tale praising the Woodland Park School District for coming to its senses in regards to a small shrine honoring three high school students killed in a wreck last summer.

And, in fact, the district and school board has grudgingly decided to allow the three small wooden lattices to remain on the edge of the Woodland Park High School campus until the end of the school year.

The shrine honors Alex Ragan, Paul Kekich and Nick Naples, three Boy Scouts who died June 30 in a head-on wreck in Wyoming, along with an adult Scout volunteer and a Florida boy in the other vehicle. They were returning from summer camp when they died.

I say “grudgingly” because it took a public shaming to get officials to back off a looming deadline to remove it.

Even then, officials insulted the parents of the boys by insisting they maintain the memorial, as if they’d let a shrine to the beloved sons — inscribed with inspirational words and decorated with Boy Scout neckerchiefs, American flags, ribbons, beads and stickers — sit and rot.

There’s even paperwork necessary, the district told the families, required to let the memorial stay in the remote location where it was moved after mourners spontaneously erected it at the front of the school.

Really? Are these officials missing a compassion gene?

They continue to compound the grief of three families and I can’t quite understand.

Of course, district and board officials never returned my phone calls seeking comment. So I can only guess why they are vague about plans to honor the boys at graduation. Or why the officials refuse to hang in the school a shadow box created by a Denver baseball team to honor Paul, a star centerfielder.

The marching band director clearly gets it. The band has honored Alex at every event, leaving vacant his drum major’s post.

There have been similar acknowledgements by students and teachers through the year.

So I don’t understand the district’s insistence the memorial be swept aside and removed. Or why the school board felt the need to write a new policy restricting future temporary memorials to just 10 days. Heck, roadside memorials, such as small crosses, can remain indefinitely as long as they aren’t a traffic obstruction.

I guess transportation engineers are more sensitive to grief than school officials.

It’s gotten so ridiculous that parents are meeting at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 5, at the Mountain View United Methodist Church to discuss it.

If district officials would call me, I’d give them some advice: Hang the shadow box. Announce plans for a permanent memorial and a ceremony at graduation. Finally, back off. Let the families and friends grieve.

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