As the brilliant June sun was setting over the farmland that covers the rolling hills of the UpCounty, they came. Hundreds of students and their parents from Clarksburg, Damascus, Boyds and other communities – they came to the rustic barn — turned chapel — at the Difference Makers Church in Damascus to remember Jacob, Patrick, and Cary. They came to remember. They came to forgive. They came to be with each other. They came to hug. They came to cry. They came to love.
The pain and the sorrow was overflowing from the small chapel as the shell-shocked communities came together to lean on each other and find some way to come to grips with the sudden loss of three teenage boys, taken from them in a horrific crash less than 24 hours prior.
“We lost three great young men,” said Clarksburg Football Coach Larry Hurd, Jr., who coached all three boys last season.
Through sobs and tears, they remembered 17-year-old Jacob Dennis, 18-year-old Patrick Shifflett, and 17-year-old Cary Greene, who were killed when the pick-up truck they were in somehow smashed into a grouping of trees on a dark and winding country road late Tuesday night. The impact of that crash has sent shockwaves through the community and the entire county.
Three young lives cut so horribly short.
The crash site, with three trees lay bare and barkless from the impact, has become a focal point for the sadness of the community. The numbers of students, parents and anyone wanting to pay their respects forced the Montgomery County Police to close the road and have a traffic detail assigned to the intersection of Burnt Hill Road and Kingstead Road.
The police officers at the scene said there had been a steady stream of visitors to the crash site all day long on Wednesday. Visitors left flowers, balloons, and crosses, and they wrote messages of love on the bare trees at the site where their classmates left this life.
At the evening vigil, Pastor Clark Baisden tried to put the feelings of the community into words. He began by asking, “Have you noticed the wind has been blowing all day? It hasn’t let up all day. It is like your spirit inside of you — it has been restless. Those trees never stopped swaying. That’s how I felt all day long. It was just the constant blowing of the wind. The wind has been driving ever since we had been shaken by this news. It has been restless, like my thoughts. Never standing still, just like my thoughts, always wanting to move. Trying to find the good, but having no confidence in that thought, so blowing on to another.”
So many came to the small chapel that the crowd overflowed into the parking lot. Many listened through the wooden windows in the chapel as music played and community members and victims' family spoke. The mourners surrounded the building.
Hundreds came to pray, to hold candles, to hold each other, to be with each other, to know that they were not the only ones hurting, to show each other their pain, and sorrow, and loss. They came to remember and find hope.
Nico Prestipino, a junior at Clarksburg high school and a friend and teammate the three spoke about the sorrow the community was feeling. “It is hard,” said Prestipino. “It is so hard, but God gives its biggest battles to his toughest warriors. And the people in this community right here are among the toughest warriors I have ever seen.”
Lilly Shifflett, the mother of Patrick Shifflett, spoke about her son and his strength — both physical and spiritual. “Pat’s death is not in vain. I have faith that each one of you is going to find a higher strength in your faith. My son Patrick was a strong, faithful boy. Not only was he big and strong, but his faith was stronger than his size. He wanted to be a Division I football player. He wanted to be a good community member. He was the best son a mother could have. He was big and strong, and powerful, and looked like Superman. And he was soft, and gentle, and kind, and loving.”
“Each one of you remember that Patrick, Jacob, and Cary did not die in vain,” said Lilly Shifflett. “You all have angels Heaven watching over you. God’s plan for each one of you is to remember them — and live a good life and do good things. Stay out of trouble. Follow good plans. Don’t go down the wrong path. Do not blame God. I am his mother, and I am not blaming God.”
Charles Dennis, father of the Jacob Dennis, the driver of the pick-up truck spoke through sobs and sorrow, “I love all of you for being here. To all the families – from the bottom of my heart — I am so, so sorry.”
Cary Greene’s sister, Elana Greene, stood with her mother and thanked her brother’s teammates. “I want to thank the players for Damascus and Clarksburg for helping Cary find God. Cary loved all of you so much. I hope you remember him for his ability to make you laugh, and for never taking life too seriously.” She joked, “and for always being late, and never doing his homework, and for being sweet and kind, and being there for you all when you needed him.”
“Last night three sets of parents got the nightmare phone call,” said Coach Hurd. “The call nobody ever wants to get. It rocks your soul to the core, but you look around here, and you see the communities. You see Clarksburg. You see Damascus. You see Boyds. You see Poolesville and several more. Everybody has come together to support each other. That is what we are going to have to do for the next several weeks. We are all hurting.”
He spoke directly to the Dennis family in an effort to ease their pain, “This was an accident that happened last night. We love you, and we are going to support you,” which drew a round of applause from the hundreds gathered shoulder to shoulder in the chapel.
“We lost three great young men,” said Coach Larry Hurd, Jr. said as he addressed those gathered to remember. “Three sons. Three family members. Three citizens of our community. Three incredible young men. Let’s celebrate the great things they’ve done, the great lives they’ve lived, the people they have been around, and the people that they have affected. We loved them. We love their families and this entire community. That is what we are about… love.”
“They were my football players,” said Hurd choking back tears, “and I love them. I would do anything for them.”
Top: Hundreds gathered inside and outside of the chapel at The Difference Makers Church in Damascus for a prayer vigil for three Clarksburg High School students who died in a horrific car crash Tuesday night.
Next: Many held candles in memory of the three boys at the vigil held Wednesday night.
Next: The crash site on Burnt Tree Road in Clarksburg had become a focal point for many in the community. Visitors have left flowers, balloons, and crosses in memory of the three teenagers.
Next: The impact of the crash stripped the trees of their bark. Many visitors have begun to write messages of love to the teens on the bare trees.Next: Next: The community packed the rustic chapel to remember the three teenagers.
Next: Mourners surrounded the chapel to listen to music and community members speak about the tragic accident.
Next: Lilly Shifflett, with Pastor Clark Baisden beside her spoke about her son Patrick’s faith.
Next: Elana Greene, sister of Cary Greene, remembered her brother as funny, happy, faithful friend.
Next: Clarksburg Head Football Coach Larry Hurd Jr. reminded the community to continue to support each other over the coming weeks as the impact of this tragedy continues to ripple out into the community.
Photos by Germantown Pulse