Just a month before her 17th birthday, friends, family members and classmates from Chantilly, Centreville and Fairfax are mourning the loss of a local girl. The body of Cara Lynn Golias, 16, of the City of Fairfax, was found Monday afternoon in Hemlock Overlook Regional Park in Clifton.
A junior at Fairfax High, she’d been missing since Sunday and both Fairfax County and City of Fairfax police had searched for her. They say foul play is not suspected in her death.
The tragedy has left all who knew her grieving and spurred Fairfax High Principal Dave Goldfarb to send an open message to the school community Tuesday morning.
“I am deeply saddened to report to you that one of our students, Cara Golias, died unexpectedly,” he wrote. “Cara was a junior and a member of our cross country and soccer teams. She also represented our school at the International Science Fair last spring. Cara will be truly missed and lovingly remembered by the Fairfax High School community [which] sends its thoughts and prayers to [her] family.”
On Monday, City of Fairfax police alerted area residents that she’d been missing since Sunday and asked for help finding her. A former AP student at Rocky Run Middle School in Chantilly, she was last seen Sept. 28 near Manassas Park Middle School and hadn’t been in contact with her family since then.
Golias was wearing a white shirt with sequins, jeans shorts and silver-and-turquoise dream catcher earrings, and police believed she walked through nearby woods initially searched by Manassas Park and Prince William County police.
Together, Fairfax City and County police conducted an extensive search and found the teen’s body Sept. 29, around 1 p.m., near the railroad bridge trestle in the 13200 block of Yates Ford Road in Hemlock Park. County police spokeswoman Shelley Broderick said the medical examiner will determine the “cause and manner” of her death.
In his message Tuesday, Goldfarb told Fairfax High parents he’d contacted Golias’s family Monday to offer the school’s condolences and support. “The family allowed me to share news of her death with you so that you may be prepared to support your students,” he wrote. “Teachers told students about Cara’s death during second period [Tuesday] morning. It was important to have students hear this sad news from a trusted adult.”
He said the school’s “taking every step” it can to be responsive to the students’ feelings. “Our counseling staff stands ready to meet their needs, wherever they are in the grieving process,” he wrote. “We also have a crisis team of psychologists and social workers from other FCPS schools at our school to provide comfort and support to our students.”
“Understanding death, especially the death of a classmate, can be a very difficult experience for a young person,” continued Goldfarb. “For that reason, we hope you’ll listen to your son or daughter, as well as discuss with them their feelings and reactions to this tragedy. We’re focused on supporting any students who may be grieving a loss.”
He advised parents of children particularly struggling with the tragedy, or experiencing strong feelings of previous losses, to contact their counselor. He also provided links to documents explaining how parents may help their children work through their grief and gave them several, emergency hotline numbers.
City of Fairfax Police Chief Carl Pardiny, himself a father, was also sorry to hear of Golias’s death. “We are all deeply saddened over the loss of Cara,” he said. “Our hearts and prayers go out to her family and friends.”
There was a moment of silence for her at the start of Fairfax High’s school day Tuesday, and many students wore the school’s blue color to honor her. Several Centreville High students also wore blue in support.
That evening, Fairfax High’s cross-country team competed in Washington, D.C. At the same time, the girls on Centreville and Westfield High’s cross-country teams participating in a meet at Centreville ran with Golias’s name written on their bodies in remembrance. Inscribed on their hands, arms and legs was “#ForCara.”
“About 15-20 people on our team wrote it on our hands,” said Centreville High senior and runner Jackie O’Shea. “And before the race, we chanted, ‘For Cara,’ in our circle. We wanted to do something because we’re one, big, running community.”
Fairfax High teammate Sierra Brooks, a senior, said Golias had a “genuine smile that lit up a room when she walked in; she was really special. She also worked hard on the team. Even if she was injured, she’d push through until her body gave out.”
Senior Ben Ryan manages the Rebels’ cross-country team and met Golias his sophomore year when she was a freshman and they were in Fairfax’s chorus together. “She was one of my best friends,” he said. “Cara was one of the easiest people to talk to. She was going through a lot of her own stuff. But you could tell her anything, and she’d listen to what you were saying, no matter what.”
“If you were sad about something, she’d be sad with you and ask you to tell her everything,” said Ryan. “And it was the same when you were happy; she was so amazing.”
He said their favorite hangout spot was the approximately 40-foot rope swing under the train trestle by the Bull Run stream. They and some friends discovered it in June.
“We thought nobody at our school knew about it, so it was our own place,” said Ryan. “Someone had written graffiti there saying, ‘The naughty nine,’ and there were nine of us, so we called ourselves that as a joke.” Over the summer, they returned 10-15 times, met the Centreville students there and, sometimes, even had picnics by the swing.
But Golias, who would have turned 17 on Oct. 30, also had a serious side. “She wanted to be a doctor,” said Ryan. “She was super smart. She went to the International Science Fair in California in May and won grand prize at Regionals last year.”
On Tuesday, the whole Rebel cross-country team spoke with a school psychologist and a counselor, and “that helped,” said Ryan. “I cried a lot [that day] – we all did.” He and about 60 others also attended a service for Golias that night at Fairfax Methodist Church. “We talked about her and said a prayer as we tied knots on a blanket to make a whole,” he said.
To cope with what’s happened, he’s talking with friends, and he said his teachers have been understanding about his schoolwork. As for what he’s learned from the tragedy, Ryan said, “No matter what’s bothering you, tell a friend. If other people know what’s going on, they can help.”
Westfield High cross-country parent Jennie Bush only met Golias a few times, but she, too, was touched by her death. “It’s heartbreakingly sad and I feel so badly for Cara’s family,” she said. “What a tragic loss of a beautiful, sweet girl.”