Some of the notes left in Marbeck Center at Bluffton University during the memorial service.
BLUFFTON The funerals have been held, tears shed, flowers delivered
and now wilted.
Students and faculty have returned to Bluffton University a small,
peaceful, indeed peace-filled campus that only weeks ago much of the
world had never heard of.
That changed March 2 when a chartered bus carrying Bluffton s baseball
team and coaches to Florida for spring games crashed on I-75 in Atlanta.
The accident took the lives of five students: David Betts of Bryan, Ohio; Scott Harmon and Tyler Williams, both of Lima; Cody Holp of Arcanum, Ohio, and Zachary Arend of Oakwood, Ohio. The bus driver and his wife, Jerome and Jean Niemeyer, also were killed.
Curtis Martin wears a shirt remembering Tyler Williams, one of the players killed in the crash.
At a memorial service attended by more than 2,000 people March 12, the university paid tribute to the five young men who loved baseball and the Putnam County couple who loved cheering them on. It was the first day students had been back since the tragedy thrust their school into the national spotlight, and morning classes were canceled so they could meet with faculty and each other to sort things out and look ahead.
We don t return to normal. It s different now. Our reality is different now, said Sally Weaver Sommer, interim dean and vice president of academic affairs.
Bluffton senior Hannah Kehr said her school is forever changed. For many people, especially freshmen and sophomores, this is how they re going to remember this.
This is going to be an event that shapes the way their college career feels, she said.
Last week, as classes resumed after Bluffton s week-long spring break, flags hung at half-staff. Purple ribbons were tied around every tree and pole.
Inside Marbeck Center, a central area had been turned into a place for reflection filled with flowers, cards, e-mails, and photos. Visitors were invited to write their thoughts to the victims families, the school, and the baseball team, which still does not know if it will take the field this spring.
You guys are incredible and your strength has moved the nation, A.J. wrote. May you draw peace from one another and grow stronger in the time to come.
Ms. Weaver Sommer is heading an effort dubbed the caring community, aimed at helping students and faculty work through the tragedy. She said much of her guidance has come from schools that have experienced similar losses, like Taylor University in Upland, Ind., which lost four students and one staff member last year when their van collided with a semi tractor-trailer on an Indiana interstate.
Everyone has told us from the other schools that our work is really going to begin in about three weeks, Ms. Weaver Sommer said. That s when we re going to start recognizing this student isn t able to concentrate, this student can t get his work done. ... There s been this intense work right now, but then there are going to be these other needs.
Faculty have been encouraged to listen, listen, listen and be open to what feels right in any given setting, she said. Support groups have been organized, and students were told directly: Don t ignore each other. Talk. Share. Listen.
I was just talking to a student and he said Monday he not quite sure who to talk with and how. How do you talk with each other about this, and the players should you say something or shouldn t you? Ms. Weaver Sommer said. But more and more, people are feeling more comfortable, so I think each day you just get more used to it. ... You feel each other out and figure out what are the right things to say.