Family and friends hold vigil for RHAM student killed in single-vehicle accident

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Hebron - posted Tue., Feb. 4, 2014
Garrett Campen was the second RHAM senior to be killed in an auto accident within a period of six months. Contributed photo. - Contributed Photo

Luminarias lined the sidewalk leading to the front door of RHAM High School the evening of Jan. 30 – paper bags filled with sand, each glowing with the flame of a single votive candle. Many of the bags carried note cards bearing messages for Garrett Campen, an 18-year-old Andover resident and RHAM senior who was killed the morning of Jan. 29 in a single-auto accident.

Inside, the entryway was filled with students, parents, teachers and others, waiting to file into the school auditorium. The hall was lined with tables bearing poster boards on which mourners wrote messages in rainbow magic markers. A large piece of paper taped to the wall bore more messages for Campen and his grieving family.

Inside the darkened auditorium, music played quietly while photos of Campen were projected onto a large screen suspended over the stage. There were photos of Campen playing football and soccer for RHAM. There were prom photos, beach photos and photos with friends. One heart-breaking photo showed Campen as a young boy, smiling happily into the camera.  By the time the vigil began at just after 9 p.m., the auditorium was packed, with people standing in the stairway and the alcoves alongside the seating area.

According to state police, Campen was traveling south on Route 316 near the Andover town line around 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 29, when he lost control of his car while negotiating a curve. The car spun out and slid off the side of the road, where it struck two large trees. There was a planned delay at RHAM that morning to allow for professional development, and Campen was reportedly traveling to school. Two witnesses performed CPR at the scene until first responders arrived. Campen was taken to Windham Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to police. He was reportedly wearing his seat belt at the time of the accident.

Students quickly learned about the accident at RHAM, and provisions were made for counselling. A memorial developed at the scene of the crash, with mourners bringing flowers, cards, sports jerseys, an American flag and other mementoes.

At the vigil, a group of young men opened the proceedings by gathering at the front of the auditorium, sharing memories of sports and friendships. Then Campen’s parents, Cathy and Glen, appeared before the crowd. Cathy spoke for the couple, admitting that she probably wouldn’t be able to handle reminiscing at the wake and the funeral; but among the friends, teachers and others gathered at the vigil, she felt strong enough to share some thoughts.

Cathy spoke of making gingerbread houses with Garrett and his friends, a tradition long observed in the family. “I thought at 16 that was all over,” she said, noting that her son still wanted to follow tradition as he grew older. On the screen behind her, photos appeared of a teenaged Campen, sitting around the family’s dining room table with friends, all of them diligently working on their gingerbread houses. The mother spoke of walking into the hospital room, “and seeing my baby, and I knew he was no longer there,” said Cathy, speaking of her faith and the comfort that her son was now with Jesus.

Messages in the hallway spoke of Campen’s athletic abilities, his sense of humor, his positive outlook and his loyalty as a friend. “Special Olympics won’t be the same without you,” wrote one student.

Campen was the fourth student that the RHAM population has lost over the past year, and the second member of the Class of 2014 to die in an auto accident in the past six months.

RHAM freshman Amanda Monington, 15, of Marlborough, died after falling 20 feet from a waterfall at Enders State Forest in Granby in June. John Orrin Georgiades, 16, died in October after a battle with neuroblastoma. And Hebron resident Paige Houston, who would have been a senior at RHAM, died in August after she was ejected from a vehicle that hit a tree on West Street in Hebron.

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