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Community mourns teens’ deaths at church service

Mourners lit candles blessed prayer shawls after prayer service Tuesday for Wilmingtteens whose car was found inverted nearby creek. The

Mourners lit candles and blessed prayer shawls after the prayer service Tuesday for the Wilmington teens whose car was found inverted in a nearby creek. The shawls will be given to families if the victims. | Erin Gallagher~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 14, 2013 6:52AM

People who have experienced tragedy recognized the painful numbness that filled the Wilmington church Tuesday night.

For many of the young people, though, the loss of their friends was a new experience. Boys who struggle to be men fought back the tears. Girls held each other up. Parents consoled their children as they passed tissues between the rows.

The First United Methodist Church was filled during Tuesday’s evening prayer service honoring the four Wilmington High students found in an upside down car in the creek earlier that morning. The victims, Micalah Sembach, Cheyenne Fender, Cody Carter and Matthew Bailey will not soon be forgotten.

“(Cody) was like a big teddy bear that would be there for your problems,” said Sophomore John Widner. “I knew him since Kindergarten.”

The teens were last heard from Monday afternoon. Many of their friends were on the bus that discovered the blue Mazda submerged in Forked Creek.

Sophomore Hailey Banks said she was up all night Monday with the search party. Her friend was on the school bus that discovered the car Tuesday morning. They arranged for the friend to call her if the bus came across any news.

“I was the one who called (Micalah’s parents) when they found the car,” she said. “She was literally my best friend and my sister.”

Tears trickled down Jeremy Banks’ face as he explained that Monday was his 14th birthday. Like his sister, Hailey, that was when they realized their friends were lost. Plus, it was their father’s birthday Tuesday, the day they discovered the bodies. For them, a birthday will always be synonymous with the loss of their friends.

Grief did not discriminate.

The tall, athletic Wilmington High junior, J.D. Hale, 17, wore his purple monogrammed letterman jacket to the service. He was Cody Carter’s first cousin.

“He’s in a good place now, he’s with God,” Hale said. “I wish I could see him one more time to tell him I love him. I’ll see him again one day.”

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