"Your kids are amazing. We learned so much from them as therapists."
That's what one of the counselors told parents of the "living dead" Friday morning, the second day of the Every 15 Minutes exercise at North Union High School in Armstrong.
It all started first thing Thursday morning when a beeping sounded over the school intercom followed by a steady tone - of someone flatlining. Then the Grim Reaper (quite skillfully played by Eric Anderson) came into each classroom, going from student to student, until he stood over a single student and selected him (or her). Tears were shed. Real tears. Students were then escorted to the school administrative board room where counselors talked with them about the experiences they would have over the next couple days. No activities. No talking to anyone else in school. No seeing boyfriends or girlfriends. Yes, really. Ouch.
And then each student received the makeup of the living dead.
At noon, the living dead and the rest of the student body made their way to the football field parking lot where there was a simulated accident. Chase Paulson was running about (perhaps staggering would have been more like it), frantically calling emergency personnel. Atop another car, dead, was Chase's friend, Marshall Klingenberg. Inside the car were Dena Looft, Ashley Olson and Aric Runge. After Marshall was taken away by the funeral home and the others by ambulance, Paulson was placed under arrest - for vehicular homicide.
Students then entered the gym where they witnessed Aric fighting for his life - then losing.
On Friday, after a video during which you could have heard a pin drop in the gym with several hundred students, the trial was held for Chase. Among the witnesses was Ashley, who said he had taken away her closest friend since she was a baby - Marshall. Perhaps chiefly due to his remorse and pleas for mercy, Chase's sentence was given concurrently - 25 years.
If the reality the simulation hadn't hit anyone yet, it did at Marshall's funeral. Real tears came, from Ashley and many others. Big, tough kids used to banging each other around the football field cried.
And then Pastor Lyn Roesler extolled Marshall's life.
"I never knew a kid who had God's light more steady in his life than Marshall," said Pastor Roesler.
The funeral concluded, the pallbearers exited with the casket and lo and behold, Marshall was in the gym lobby, giving hug after grateful hug to his classmates who shed tears again.
A couple weeks before prom, the timing couldn't have been better. And that was the intent - for students to know the reality of what could happen if they drink and drive.
Most likely, just about all the students - if not all - will remember what they saw Thursday and Friday. It was all a simulation. Yet it was oh so real.
Probably the best thing that could come out of it though is how the students reacted during Every 15 Minutes. They took it seriously and, beyond that, you could hear them articulating to each other the dangers of drinking and driving. The peer pressure to not do it was absolutely enormous.
Yes, North Union kids are amazing.