Double tragedy shocks school

Calvert Hall College copes with anger, grief after two students die

May 28, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

A double dose of tragedy has rattled students and teachers at Calvert Hall College High School in Towson in recent weeks, putting a damper on festive graduation parties and the start of summer recess.

The deaths of two students - Patrick J. Cunningham and Andrew G. Carlson, both 17 - in separate car accidents within a month has made it difficult for students to concentrate on schoolwork and final exams.

"The whole reality of losing two classmates, it's tough," said Chris Miller, 17, a junior at Calvert Hall. "And you can't help but think that it could have been any one of us."

Cunningham died April 22 when his car had a blowout and struck a utility pole in Kingsville. Carlson, a junior, died Wednesday when the car he was driving was hit by another vehicle at Goucher Boulevard and LaSalle Road in Towson.

Carlson's accident has sparked a petition drive that students hope will persuade Baltimore County officials to install a traffic light at the busy intersection.

"It is a very, very difficult intersection," Calvert Hall's principal, Brother Kevin Stanton, said last week. "I know adults who won't even consider a left turn there. We're dealing with 16- and 17-year-olds with limited experience driving, and they have to make split-second decisions."

Although the petition drive has helped to focus students' grief and anger, it hasn't defused strong emotions.

A pregraduation ceremony is scheduled tomorrow for Cunningham's parents and Calvert Hall's senior class, of which he was a member. School officials will present Jack and Colleen Cunningham with their son's diploma and cap and gown. In return, the Cunninghams will give each senior a Celtic cross, a replica of a crucifix their son wore on a chain around his neck.

Jack Cunningham said the death of another student so soon after his son's has made healing much more difficult for his family.

"It just knocked me for a loop," he said. "I mean, I know it is not the case, but it almost felt like it happened all over again."

On the 1,100-student Towson campus, young faces sport red, tired eyes. Voices are hushed and in monotones. Heads are downcast.

"It's not like people are going around and slamming their fists into lockers," said Calvert Hall junior Owen McEvoy, 17. "People are keeping it to themselves. But you know they feel it. You can tell."

At a Feast of the Ascension Mass the day after Carlson's death, students prayed for their friend and sang hymns. Some signed large poster-board cards for his family. One message read: "Dear Drew, have fun with your new wings."

"It's hard for students to believe it's happened two times in one month," said Stanton. "It compounds the grief and the sense of loss."

That Calvert Hall could witness two tragic deaths within 32 days bends the minds and twists the hearts of some students, many of whom have only experienced the death of a grandparent or elderly relative in their short lives.

"It's really unfair," said Miller. "I mean to be hit with two in a year ... it shows that life is pretty fragile."

"It just makes you angry," said McEvoy. "I mean, was one not good enough? You had to take another?"

Teachers and counselors have tried to reassure Calvert Hall students that God didn't cause the accidents that took their friends from them. The lesson - that life can be unpredictable and cruel at times - is hard for some to accept.

"I tell them that there's no answer to `Why?'" said Judy Urlich, a religion teacher who knew Cunningham. "I tell them that I wonder as much as they do, but that I know that God isn't sitting up in heaven with a lottery machine and saying, `Oh, it's your day.'"

For Calvert Hall teachers who had Cunningham and Carlson in their classes, empty desks serve as painful reminders of the school's loss. As students prepared to attend Carlson's viewing Friday at Schimunek Funeral Home in Bel Air, water polo coach George Kropp said an athlete asked if the team could attend the event together. Said Kropp: "It was a beautiful show of solidarity that Andrew was part of us so we wanted to come together."

In a similar show of affection, some of Cunningham's closest friends and Calvert Hall classmates have had shamrocks tattooed on their bodies.

Even those who weren't close to either boy are feeling hurt.

"It's like we lost two brothers," said junior Peter Galiatsatos, 17. "We're always going to feel that loss."

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