Memorial service, youth rally to seek healing over teen deaths Carroll County event planned Saturday in park

September 10, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Alarmed by the number of Carroll County teen-agers who have died in the past year, a group of residents will hold a memorial service and youth rally in Westminster on Saturday.

More than 1,000 teens are expected to attend the event, which is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. at City Park, 11 Longwell St.

The brainchild of Patti Robinson and Janai Bassler, the event is designed to encourage teens who have lost loved ones to reach out to each another and begin the healing process.

"After my niece was killed, Janai and I realized how much pain the kids were feeling and decided that we had to do something to bring them together," said Robinson, whose niece Jessica R. Bassler, 16, was killed in a car crash in April.

Jessica and Domini Wigle, juniors at Francis Scott Key High School near Uniontown, died when 16-year-old Domini lost control of her car on Route 194 in Pennsylvania and slid into the path of another vehicle, whose driver, Martha Sheets, 61, of Littlestown, Pa., was also killed.

The youths' deaths prompted Robinson and Bassler to form Circle of Friends, a support group for the friends and family members of teen-agers who have died. In the past year, more than a dozen youths have lost their lives to various causes -- accidents, drug overdoses, disease, suicide and, in July, a homicide.

"It's hard. After the death of a child, you feel alienated. Friends don't know what to say, how to talk to you," said Anthony Rivera, whose son Anthony Joseph "T. J." Rivera, died of an asthma attack Oct. 24. He was 14.

"We want other parents to know that there are people they can reach out to, people who know exactly what they're going through," added T. J.'s mother, Debbie Rivera. "We want them to know they are not alone."

The Riveras are trying to educate teachers, students, bus drivers -- anyone willing to listen -- about asthma.

They're also prodding people to become organ donors, like T. J., whose eyes were donated. They are encouraging parents who have lost a child to join a support group.

For the past few months, the Riveras have been in counseling. Anthony Rivera said he's learned that it takes years to get over the death of a child.

"It's a long road that is very hard to travel," said Rivera. "But it can be traveled. My wife and I are proof of that."

Plans for the rally have ballooned as 20 churches and several religious youth groups have become involved. Youths attending the rally will have refreshments, listen to a concert by the alternative Christian funk band Roger Record and the Groove, view a memorial video and talk about what it is like to lose a friend. The event will end with a candle-lighting ceremony.

"It's really important to give the kids a chance to grieve, to let them know there's people they can go to to talk about their feelings," said Beth Wilkinson, whose son, Joseph Wilkinson, was killed in a car accident in New York last year. He was 17.

"I'm trying to get my whole family to go," Wilkinson said. "I'm hoping it will help give them closure."

If the rally is a success, organizers said they will plan additional gatherings. Proceeds will be used to pay for Saturday's rally and future functions.

"We'd like to make this an annual event," Robinson said.

Tickets for the rally are $5. The price includes refreshments and participation in competitions such as sumo wrestling and the human fly trap, a game that catapults contestants dressed in suits made of hook-and-loop fasteners against a wall covered with the same material.

Information: 410-876-3454.

Pub Date: 9/10/98

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