Dr. Monica Gillespie, head of school at St. Paul's School for Girls, right, and senior Quinn Burch pose at the school in Brooklandville. Gillespie recently visited St. Hilda's School in Southport, Queensland, Australia, to visit with the family that had hosted Cameron O'Neill-Mullin. Cameron, and Paris Wilson, the daughter of the host family, died there in a freak boating accident a year ago on April 5, 2011. Burch also went to the same town in Australia during her own student exchange program two years ago. (Staff Photo by Brian Krista / March 29, 2012)

Monica Gillespie, head of school at St. Paul's School for Girls in Brooklandville, wouldn't say her recent trip to Australia provided closure for her, or the school for that matter.

How could it?

Both St. Paul's School for Girls and St. Hilda's School, an all-girls school on the Gold Coast of Australia, will mourn the one-year anniversary of the death of a 10th-grade student this week.

Cameron O'Neill-Mullin, of Lutherville, and Paris Wilson, her Australian host sister, both 16, developed a wonderful friendship through the schools' exchange program before a freak boating accident at water park near Brisbane took both of their lives on April 5, 2011.


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Those wounds, for both communities, never truly close.

But to Gillespie, who last month spent time at both St. Hilda's School and in Goondiwindi — the small town where the Wilsons lived and hosted Cameron while the students were on holiday from school — the trip reinforced the bond between two schools that are connected by a tragedy.

"In thinking about grief and transition, there's a thought that somehow there is closure," Gillespie said.

"I don't actually think that there is closure. We needed, as a school, to be present at St. Hilda's to share our grief with them and to share our appreciation for how they cared for us and cared for Cameron.

"I think it's just part of building a strong relationship, so it was really important for our community to be there to acknowledge their loss," she said.

Gillespie's trip is the most recent that members of the two communities have taken since the accident. Maria McIvor, deputy principal at St. Hilda's, visited St. Paul's shortly after the deaths of Cameron and Paris.

Paris' family — including younger sister, Dodie, who was seriously injured in the accident — came to America for Cameron's celebration of life last summer, and Cameron's family has also visited Australia.

Gillespie's sojourn was the final piece.

She spent several days at St. Hilda's, partially as an ambassador but also on something of a fact-finding mission. She addressed the school at a special chapel and presented Dodie and another student with a journal of messages from St. Paul's students.

She also visited with the two St. Paul students who are currently studying at St. Hilda's and will be returning with their own exchange students shortly.

And she tried to learn about Paris.

"They knew Cameron because she was there," Gillespie said of those at St. Hilda's. "Just hearing the stories and talking with (Paris') friends at school, talking with her teachers, talking with her family and hearing the stories about Paris and then, hearing the stories about the two girls together — (it) was just really helpful to get a sense of the girls."

'They enhanced each other'

Learning about Paris also painted a fulfilling picture of Cameron's time in Australia.

Through the selection process, Gillespie had the impression that Paris was an extroverted girl. Despite Cameron's considerable talents — she was gifted musically, intellectually and athletically — "one would not describe Cameron as extroverted," Gillespie said.

But through the stories she heard in Australia, Gillespie could tell Paris had rubbed off a bit onto Cameron.