Students filed into Wootton High School on Monday morning past a somber reminder of loss.
“In Remembrance” was the simple message on the sign board in front of the school. The words reflected the solemn mood of the community in and around the school.
As the community grapples with the discovery of the bodies of Rachel Crites, 18, and Rachel Smith, 16, on Friday, their families and friends struggle with their grief in the public eye. After a two-week search for the missing girls their bodies were found in Crites’ car in Western Loudoun County, Va., on Friday.
Crites graduated from Wootton last spring and Smith was a junior at Wootton. Investigators say it is likely the two girls died of suicide.
When reached by telephone Paul Smith, the father of Rachel Smith, said he wasn’t ready to speak about his daughter’s death but expressed his gratitude to the community for their support during the two-week ordeal.
“We’ve had so much help from our friends, our neighbors and from law enforcement,” Smith said. “Our main focus right now is our daughter … right now we just want to get her home and put to rest.”
SIX GRIEF counselors were on-hand at Wootton on Monday to speak with students who were affected by the tragedy, said Dr. Michael Doran, the principal of Wootton. The counselors will remain through the week, Doran said, though some students preferred to speak with their regular guidance counselors on Monday.
“Most kids want a normal day of school,” Doran said. “You’ve got a core group of close friends who were very close to them and are obviously very upset.”
Some students wanted to speak with each other privately and not with adults, Doran said, and they were given that opportunity.
“That’s their choice and you have to respect that,” Doran said. “There’s no good way of dealing with it except to listen to the kids and how they want to do it.”
A private candlelight vigil was held for both girls at the school Monday night.
One student said that he was a friend of both girls and had helped to organize the vigil. He said he and other friends of the girls were dismayed by what they felt to be negative portrayal of the girls in the press.
“I think everyone I know doesn’t want to talk about it right now,” said another Wootton student, sophomore Mike Cresham. Cresham said he didn’t know either girl personally but knows friends of theirs.
Doran said he knew the two girls from seeing them in the hallways of the school and that they had seemed to be happy.
“I would see them in the hallway and they would smile or say hi,” Doran said. “They were good students and good kids.”
Rachel Smith wanted to become a veterinarian, Doran said, and had taken a lot of science classes.
In a statement posted on the school's website, Doran said that Rachel Crites' friends remembered her fondly.
"Rachel Crites was a very thoughtful young woman who cared deeply about her friends. Some of her frinds at Wootton described her as a beautiful person who made them smile and whose laughter was contagious," Doran said in the statement.
“They were part of that group [of students] that you think is doing fine,” said Doran in an interview. Doran said that he was surprised when the two girls ran away, but that he was “shocked about the final outcome.”
DORAN MADE the announcement to the students during the usual televised morning announcements, Cresham said. Some students knew that the bodies of the two girls had been found before that, but most did not, said sophomore Justin Dhyani.
“It’s a terrible thing,” Dhyani said.
In a public statement the Crites family expressed gratitude to their neighbors, the police, and all of the well-wishers that had supported them during the two week disappearance of the two girls.
“It is a journey which we all wished had turned out so very differently. As we mourn the loss of both Rachels, we only ask that you be aware of the true risks of depression in your children, and most importantly, that you hug your child today, for we cannot.”
It has been reported that Crites suffered from depression, and Troy Crites, the father of Rachel Crites, has urged parents to look for signs of depression in their students.
Doran said that a program called “Red Flags” is taught to all tenth grade students at Wootton during their health classes. The program teaches students the symptoms of depression and the warning signs of suicide.
“It’s always stunning. … It’s out of order [when] parents have to bury their kids,” Doran said. “It should be the other way around.”