Many of the 2,600 Old Mill High students knew 17-year-old John Robert Pumphrey since elementary school. They never expected to have to bury him.
Wednesday morning when they returned to school from two teacher workshop days, students listened as principal Mary Gables struggled to tell them about a Saturday night car accident that took the life of the popular Millersville teen-ager and his friend, 18-year-oldBrian Michael Brazil, of Glen Burnie, a 1990 graduate.
James Edward Campbell, 20, a Severn resident and a 1989 Old Mill graduate, survived the crash and is listed in stable condition at theMaryland Shock Trauma Center at University Hospital in Baltimore.
"It is absolutely the hardest thing a principal ever has to do," Gable said. "You try to prepare yourself and your staff, but you can never really be prepared. We're all people and we feel for our kids. We want to protect our kids."
Funeral services for John are scheduledfor this morning at 10 a.m. at the Glen Burnie United Methodist Church on Crain Highway. Gables said students with permission from parents will be allowed to attend, where church pastor R. Olin Herndon is hoping to console family and students.
"An untimely death of a person that stands at the threshold of life is hard," the Rev. Herndon said. "I feel a great concern for his contemporaries facing so many challenges. It is a difficult time to be an adolescent. There are a lot anxieties and uncertainty just underneath the surface. They are longing and searching for the meaning of life. Togetherness helps."
John died several hours after taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test, required to enter college.
The teen-ager could often be seen selling produce from the family's farm at a vegetable stand on Route 3. But hislove for sports, especially the Dallas Cowboys, is marked by a sketching on his funeral bulletin.
And the words of his favorite song, "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin, the Rev. Herndon said, will be offered to students at the end of the service to help them remember their friend and recall the spirituality they share.
For his mother, Delores Pumphrey, they are the words she recalls singing to him during her pregnancy.
"As we wind on down the road,
Our shadows taller than our soul,
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll.
The school is also tackling methods to prevent the untimely death of other students by providing more information on alcohol and drug prevention and more school-sponsored outlets to serve as alternatives. According to police reports, the accident involved speeding and alcohol use.
County police say Brazil was driving south on Route 3 and lost control of his car while making a right turn onto the ramp of Benfield Boulevard. The car ran off the road, down a ditch and rolled on its top.
Guidance counselors, pupil personnel workers and school psychologists have been working with students since they returned to school.
Since that time, students have trickled in to talk about their feelings, and the school group, Students Helping Other People, have served as peer counselors. These students have committed to a lifestyle free of alcohol and drugs, and work to help other students find alternatives.
"We ask that parents work with us on this problem," Gables said. "It's a problem of safety. Adolescents think it will never happen to them. We have to change that attitude."
Gables has scheduled a meeting next week between county drug and alcohol offices, county school coordinator of guidance and student leaders in order todevelop new strategies, programs and activities.
She added she will be open to ideas that may help to provide students with options for their free time.
"The school has active athletic and drama programs, but we are willing to hear from students and staff about other ideas," Gables said.
On the night of the accident, about 1,000 students gathered at the school for an air guitar dance and contest. The Varsity Club-sponsored dance is one of about four at the school each year.