They were students, friends and family members, huddled in a large group in the middle of the Mount Hebron High School parking lot late Tuesday night, standing in silence for long minutes, hugging, crying and waiting.
A little after 9:30 p.m., Anna Mayr led her parents into the middle of the circle, where they started to light candles. The light slowly spread.
“It means the world to us and the family that you’re here,” Sharon Mayr, the mother of one of the two young women being honored at the candlelight vigil, told the crowd. “The Mount Hebron community is a wonderful community, and we have wonderful memories here. Rose was happiest here.”
Rose Mayr and Elizabeth Nass, both 19 and 2010 graduates of Mount Hebron, died shortly after midnight Tuesday when 21 coal-filled cars of a CSX train derailed in Ellicott City. According to police, the teens’ bodies were found seated on the edge of the bridge over Main Street, just a few feet from the tracks. Nass and Mayr were buried under the coal as it fell from the train.
Less than 24 hours after the incident, more than 250 people gathered in the parking lot of the women’s alma mater. The vigil was brief, with Mayr’s parents, Sharon and Mark, speaking for only a few minutes.
“Anna (Rose’s sister) can’t speak, but she said (earlier), ‘Rose was supposed to grow old with me,’” Mark Mayr said. “That about sums it up. It was too soon.”
Members of Nass’ family, Sharon Mayr said, were unable to attend the vigil, but the Mayr family “is solidified with them.
“We loved Elizabeth dearly, and we will miss her,” Sharon Mayr said.
Mayr and Nass had been friends from elementary school, Mark Mayr said after the vigil, and even though the two went to separate colleges — Mayr to the University of Delaware, Nass to James Madison University in Virginia — they had “seemed to enjoy a resurgence in their friendship these last few years.”
During the vigil, Sharon Mayr urged those gathered, most of them young adults, to do wonderful things in their future, and said she found strength in her faith.
“Actions happen,” Sharon Mayr said. “We find strength to go on, and we don’t ask why. There’s a plan, and we have faith.”
Several minutes of silence followed before Sharon Mayr extinguished her candle.
Around her, others did the same, slowly until the rays from the parking lot lights were all that remained. Many lingered, and the crowd only started to disperse nearly 20 minutes later.
“Both were two amazing people,” said Paul Sharalla, like Mayr and Nass a 2010 Mount Hebron graduate. “They didn’t deserve this.”
Sharalla and another 2010 graduate, Chelsea Chmel, said they were acquaintances of the two women, but knew them well enough to know they were “amazingly kind,” Sharalla said.
Chmel was on the Hebron dance squad with Mayr, and described her as a light-hearted, funny person.
“She could light up the room,” Chmel said. “And Elizabeth was the same, just as nice.”
With the community still reeling from what he called a “freak accident,” Sharalla recalled the women simply.
“These were two golden, amazing people,” he said.
Funeral arrangements for Mayr are still pending, but a service is expected to be held at Bethany United Methodist Church in Ellicott City Saturday morning, according to her parents. A funeral service for Nass will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City.