Coping with loss: Students mourn the death of a classmate

Published 9:01 am Tuesday, December 3, 2013

It’s not abnormal for students to be a bit sluggish upon returning to school after a four-day weekend, but the mood at Dowagiac Union High School was particularly somber Monday as students mourned the loss of one of their classmates.


Rebecca Walker

Last Wednesday, 16-year-old Rebecca Walker was killed in a car accident after the vehicle she was riding in spun out of control due to the snowy road conditions, colliding with an oncoming vehicle. The driver of the car, her brother Nathan, survived the accident and was treated at Lakeland Hospital in Niles.

The loss of Walker was met with shock and grief from  many in the community who knew her. The sophomore student was an active participant in various clubs associated with both her school and her church, the Apostolic Lighthouse Church.

The returning Union High students were given a short statement about the accident Monday morning, informing them of the death of their classmate. In addition, the school’s counselors were on hand all day to give advice to students who were still reeling from the loss of one of their own.

“Our goal is to provide as high a level of normalcy as possible,” said Principal Pieter Hoekstra.

Hoekstra and his fellow administrators prepared for the fallout of Wednesday’s accident the afternoon after it occurred, he said. The staff prepared as best they could to provide the support Walker’s friends would need upon their return to school.

“We immediately asked ourselves, ‘what can we do, what is the next step we need to take,’” Hoekstra added. “Unfortunately, in this line of work, you have to prepared for this kind of situation, and [the staff] was today.”

Walker’s classmates and teachers have already begun to honor her memory, with her friends decorating her locker.

“The student response has been very positive, in the sense of them surrounding her friends and family with the support they need,” Hoekstra said.

One of the things Walker will be remembered at the school is for is her love of music.

“She was your typical smiling, happy teenager,” said Jeff Robinson, the school’s choir director. “You could tell she loved to sing, and that choir was important to her.”

Walker had been a part of the high school choir since her freshman year, Robinson said, adding that her presence was definitely missed during the choir’s rehearsal Monday morning.

“It was a somber day,” Robinson said. “It was a good day as mentor to talk about the different ways that we grieve and the ways we can work through different times like this.”

The choir is currently preparing for its annual winter concert, which will be held on Thursday. The choir discussed whether or not to continue with the concert in light of Walker’s death, deciding to hold the show in her memory, Robinson said.

“It will make it especially hard to have a program,” he said. “However, I know that Rebecca would want us to go on with show.”

The sophomore was also heavily involved with her church, as she was a member of the church’s praise team, drama team and the music team. The local church community has taken the initiative in holding memorials for the young teen.

In addition, a number of Walker’s friends are in the process of organizing a vigil in her honor.

Walker’s funeral service will be held at Apostolic Lighthouse Church the same location on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 11 a.m.