After a week of heartache, a grieving community gathered Tuesday at Seton Catholic Central in an attempt to find closure.
At a memorial service in the school's gymnasium, crowds paid tribute to Dat T. Ong, 17; and Chu "Allen" Xiong, 18, two international students who were struck by a car and killed Tuesday, Nov. 15, while walking along Peasleeville Road in Peru.
Dat, of Vietnam, and Chu, of China, had been living with a local host family and attending Seton Catholic since the beginning of the school year.
Students and staff sat in silence as they waited for Chu's family to join them. Eyes filled with tears as his mother Huang Ke, face stricken, and his father, Xiong Ze, moved along the bleachers to take their seats.
Dat's parents, Ong Dat Thanh and Duong Thi Huong, attended a separate ceremony for their son in Burlington.
In the center of the school's gymnasium, large photos of the two young men were displayed, while white candles and incense burned around them.
Seton Catholic Principal Cathy Russell began the service by thanking Chu's parents for allowing the community to share in grieving the death of their son.
"It is our prayer that we can in some small way today express to you what Dat and Chu, 'Allen,' meant to us here at Seton," Russell said.
Biblical scriptures and Buddhist reflections were read aloud, and the entire crowd joined in reciting a Buddhist prayer:
"May you be filled with loving kindness, may you be well. May you be peaceful and at ease and free from suffering ..."
VIBRANT YOUNG MEN
Stopping periodically to gain composure, Derek Payne, director of the International Student Association at Seton, spoke of the vibrancy the young men had brought to the school.
"In many ways, both Dat and Chu were the epitome and essence of what it means to be an international student here at Seton Catholic," Payne said.
"Both were full of life. Both wanted to be successful and please their teachers, fellow students and, most of all, their parents."
Dat, he said, was the life of any gathering and brought a smile to people's faces.
He always put others before himself and had strong opinions, Payne said, but he always shared them with the utmost respect for others.
"You could always tell that he thought before he spoke, and when you spoke, he listened."
Allen practiced martial arts almost every day, Payne said with a hint of a smile, "which he would insist that everyone call kung fu."
He also kept in shape running, he added.
"He would make peace with himself before going on his run."
'LOVED THIS SCHOOL'
Payne presented Chu's mother with a teddy bear sewn from an article of her son's clothing.
"I hope it brings comfort to you," he told her.
She held the bear close to her throughout the ceremony.
Seton student James Mulligan spoke of the relationships he had formed with Dat and Chu and how greatly the two would be missed.
"I find it hard to express my feelings," Mulligan said, "as I am still in shock.
"It is horrifying to think that something so tragic can happen to such wonderful people."
Chu's father, with the help of a translator, thanked everyone for attending the service.
"He loved this school, he loved the teachers here, and he loved the students," he said of his son.
The Rev. Timothy Canaan gave the final blessing, adding, "Chu's mother is very concerned that we release his spirit."
The crowd moved outside, where she assisted in releasing two white doves.
The crowd watched silently as the birds circled in the sky, flying higher and higher, until they were out of sight, though, certainly not out of mind.
Email Ashleigh Livingston at: email@example.com