Together in sadness


For the second time this year, we found ourselves last weekend covering a candlelight vigil for a young girl who died suddenly and tragically. The two vigils were markedly different, while still paying tribute to young lives lost too soon.

The first, 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy of Stockton Springs, was allegedly killed in February by her mother and stepfather after suffering violent abuse for some time. The family had recently moved to Stockton Springs and Marissa attended school only briefly, leaving precious little time to create friendships with peers or even school staff.

Her vigil included community members, classmates and religious leaders speaking about an innocent child’s life cut short. There was outrage about the manner of Marissa’s death, and rightly so. There were questions about how it could have been prevented. There were prayers, and a multitude of unearthed photos of a smiling child few people had actually met. We will never know the promise lost in the death of this little one.

In contrast, the second vigil — for 15-year-old Laila Al-Matrouk of Belfast, who died after being struck by a car while riding her bicycle on Route 1 near her home — was a quiet, and, at times, powerfully silent remembrance of a girl active in her school and community for many years.

There were a few photos and singers. Speakers vowed to pick up Laila’s causes, to fight her fights against injustices, to remember her by speaking up for what she believed in. But the biggest difference: It seemed everyone present knew Laila. Liked her. Loved her. And, to quote one speaker, "Universed" her.

Laila, at least, had had time in her brief life to achieve much and make a mark on her community — and on our hearts.

Death is an inevitable part of life. But the death of a child is in a league alone. All of us are together in mourning the loss of these two precious young lives.

The time is near

Back-to-school tips from the American Red Cross can help make students’ return to the classrooms safer.

Here are special steps for parents of younger kids and those going to school for the first time:

Make sure children know their phone number, address, how to get in touch with their parents at work, how to get in touch with another trusted adult and how to dial 911.

Teach children not to talk to strangers or accept rides from someone they don’t know.

School bus

If children ride a bus to school, they should plan to get to their bus stop early and stand away from the curb while waiting for the bus to arrive.

Board the bus only after it has come to a complete stop and the driver or attendant has instructed you to get on.

Always stay in clear view of the bus driver and never walk behind the bus.

Cross the street at the corner, obeying traffic signals and staying in the crosswalk.

Never dart out into the street or cross between parked cars.

By car, bike, foot

If children ride in a car to get to school, they should always wear a seat belt. Younger children should use car seats or booster seats until the lap-shoulder belt fits properly (typically for children ages 8 to 12 and taller than 4 feet, 9 inches), and ride in the back seat until they are at least 13 years old.

If a teenager is going to drive to school, parents should mandate that they use seat belts. Drivers should not use their cell phones to text or make calls and should avoid eating or drinking while driving.

Students who ride their bikes to school should always wear a helmet and ride on the right in the same direction that traffic is flowing.

When children walk to school, they should cross the street only at an intersection and use a route with crossing guards. Parents should walk to school young children and children taking new routes or attending new schools, at least for the first week, to ensure they know how to get there safely. Arrange for the kids to walk to school with a friend or classmate.

Drivers, slow down!

Drivers should be aware that children are out walking or biking to school. Slow down —  especially in residential areas and school zones.

Motorists should know what the yellow and red bus signals mean. Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is getting ready to stop and motorists should slow down and be prepared to stop. Red flashing lights and an extended stop sign indicate the bus is stopped and children are getting on or off.

Drivers in both directions must stop their vehicles and wait until the lights go off, the stop sign is back in place and the bus is moving before they can start driving again.

Information courtesy of American Red Cross.