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Wilmington mourns loss of four teens

Funeral plans

According to the Will County coroner’s office, visitation and a video tribute for Matthew Bailey will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Freitag-Reeves and Baskerville Funeral Home, 700 E. Kahler Road in Wilmington. Private family funeral services will follow Friday. Interment will be in Resurrection Cemetery in Romeoville.

Visitation for Cody Carter will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the R.W. Patterson Funeral Home Braidwood Chapel, 401 E. Main St. in Braidwood, followed by a funeral service at 1 p.m. Interment will be in Custer Township Cemetery in Custer Park.

Visitation for Cheyenne Fender will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Anderson Memorial Chapel, 606 Townhall Drive in Romeoville. Cremation rites will be accorded.

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Updated: April 15, 2013 11:13AM

Pam Copley, Cheyenne Fender’s grandmother, stood outside her granddaughter’s house Wednesday afternoon, reminiscing about her girl.

Cheyenne, 17, and three other teens — Micalah Sembach, 15; Cody Carter, 15; and Matthew Bailey, 14 — were killed Monday when their car crashed into Forked Creek near Wilmington.

“She was my special grandchild,” Copley said, smiling. “We were extremely close. It was one of those things where she’d climb in bed with you and whisper in your ear.”

Cheyenne was driving a car her father had bought for her when the crash occurred Monday night, Copley said.

She was a good driver, Copley said, not reckless.

“She was very close to her mother and father,” she said. “She has a 9-year-old brother who’s taking it extremely hard.”

Cheyenne was studying to take the GED exam and wanted to go to Joliet Junior College and work toward a career in medicine, Copley said.

School memorial

The mood at Wilmington High School was somber Wednesday as a student body reeling from the loss of four of its own tried to cope. Nearly the entire student body of 460 wore black, school administrators said, and about half of them took advantage of counselors available in the school library.

“I don’t think in 29 years anything has impacted me like this has,” said Jay Plese, superintendent of Wilmington Community Unit School District 209U. “I truly wept (Tuesday morning) and prayed hard.”

Counselors shadowed the schedules of the students who died Wednesday morning in case they were needed by students or staff members who had regular contact with the teens. Third-quarter exams were put off until next week, and counselors will remain at the school the rest of the week.

The loss of four students at once in an auto crash was something none of the school’s administrators had encountered, and they called in additional counselors from the School Crisis Assistance Team to help.

Before the end of the school day Wednesday, which was an early dismissal because of a planned teacher institute day, the student body gathered in the gymnasium for a brief memorial service and moment of silence. As friends of the four teens lighted candles in their memory, the entire student body silently rose to their feet on their own, Plese said.

“It’s been a terrible experience,” Principal Kevin Feeney said.

The library has been reserved for counseling, and students have been writing messages to their friends on large sheets of paper laid out on library tables.

“There was a lot of emotion in that room,” Feeney said. “It was a powerful experience.”

The body of high school students is like a microcosm of the larger Wilmington community, which has rallied around the families of the students who passed away.

“School was very quiet. It was tough for everyone,” said Will Cooper, a freshman, as he left Wilmington High School on Wednesday.

He said the loss still affected him, even though he didn’t know the teens well.

“It was mostly shock,” he said.

After school dismissed at 11:15 a.m., teens started showing up at the crash site.

Cherokee Rutherford, 15, and Lauren Nicoll, 14, laid roses at the bases of the roadside memorial white crosses, which were covered with messages as well as the four teens’ names. Though a tear ran down Rutherford’s cheek, she smiled when she started talking about her friends.

“Micalah was amazing,” she said. “She would always hug us. She always knew what to say to make us happy.”

Matt Bailey was outgoing and funny, they said.

Cheyenne Fender had attended the high school until she began homeschooling this year, administrators said.

Micalah Sembach was as colorful as the roses her friends laid at the foot of a memorial cross with her name on it at the accident site, said the mother of one of her grieving friends.

Sembach’s family remembered her as responsible, funny and beautiful. She played the oboe and marched in the school band, they said.

She “was her own special brand of weirdness,” said her boyfriend, Stephen Lapinsky.

“When we poked her, she would squeak,” Nicoll said jokingly.

Matt was fun to hang out with too, Nicoll said

“He used to rap, then auto-tune the raps,” she said, smiling.

All four were active and involved
in school in their own ways, Feeney said.

“They were all well-respected, well-liked by all. Just great kids,” Feeney said. “You could see by the students and community coming together that they had an impact.”

More than 100 of the victims’ friends and classmates attended a second prayer service Wednesday night at Island City Baptist Church.

Pastor Ron Taylor said the short notice of Tuesday’s service made him and other community leaders realize another chance to share memories and heal together was needed.

“This is your time to show your love for one another and your support for your friends,” Taylor told the teens in attendance.

Cody’s cousin J.D. Hale said they’d always been close.

“I loved going to the farm and fishing with him, but he was so funny,” Hale said. “His sense of humor is what I’ll remember most.”

Copley, Cheyenne’s grandmother, said she doesn’t know where Cheyenne and her friends were headed Monday night but thought they may have been on their way to visit a friend.

“They got along, they were happy kids,” she said of Chyeyenne and her friends. “They’re all angels now.”

Community devastated

The deaths have hit the small Wilmington community hard.

Mayor Marty Orr said he went home Tuesday night and gave his 15-year-old son, Isaac, a hug. Orr had coached Bailey and Carter in baseball within the past few years.

Wednesday wasn’t any easier on the city residents’ emotions, the mayor said.

“The small-town aspect helps with the coping, with the grieving process, because everybody feels the same and everybody knows that,” Orr said.

Rose Domark, a server at Michelle’s restaurant in Wilmington, said the teens’ deaths have devastated the community, where people typically pull together in times of crisis.

Domark said she is planning to attend the memorial services for the teens, even though she didn’t know them or their families.

“We all need to support each other,” she said “We are a tight-knit community.”

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