Eight Florida teen-agers, representatives of a church group that raised funds after the slayings of two Columbia men in their quiet beach community in April, will help dedicate a memorial Saturday at Oakland Mills High School.
"It's a sense that it's our responsibility to be part of the healing for others," said the Rev. John Liebler, who heads the youth group that is making the trip from New Smyrna Beach, Fla. "I suppose, too, that it's to heal ourselves. In this process, we've experienced healing also."
Killed were Kevans Bradshaw Hall II, 23, and Matthew Wichita, 21, who were beaten and stabbed while vacationing at New Smyrna. Seth Quebeck, 21, also of Columbia was seriously injured in the attack, allegedly carried out by a group of local men.
Their deaths were the only slayings this year in the beach town, where residents rarely lock their doors.
The memorial -- two maple trees and a plaque that states the purpose of planting them -- will take place Saturday at 5 p.m. in front of the high school that all three men once attended.
"I think they are reaching out to me and to my family to say 'I'm sorry,' " said Christine Neperud, Matthew's mother. "It doesn't lessen the grief. But it does let me know there are good people."
Said Delia Hall, Kevans' grandmother: "He and I were very close. 'Oh Grandma,' I can hear him now. 'They planted a tree for me.' "
Liebler, pastor of St. Peter the Fisherman Episcopal Church in New Smyrna, said that in the weeks following the slayings conversations in his Bible study sessions and youth group meetings focused on the killings.
Within days, adults who lead a 130-member youth group decided the church should do something, he said. "A lot of our kids were very uncertain about doing this," Liebler said of plans for a letter of sympathy or funds for a memorial. "They said: 'How can this bring them back?' "
Eventually, the group agreed on a memorial.
"The kids themselves began to say: 'At least we can tell them that somebody cares.' "
Youth group members began going to churches and stores, carrying milk jugs, asking for donations to pay for two trees and a plaque. They raised about $350. Liebler contacted Erin Peacock, president of the Oakland Mills Community Association.
"They wanted to say something to the community," Peacock said.
As the plans developed, the memorial was discussed among Hall and Wichita's friends and former classmates. At Oakland Mills High, officials selected a spot in front of the building for the trees -- the first planted in memory of any student -- and posted signs explaining the memorial. Accommodations for the Florida students were found in area churches.
"It certainly has been in everyone's memory, especially when there are arrests and updates," said Marshall Peterson, principal of Oakland Mills High. In Florida, seven men have been arrested in the attack. Three brothers -- Jonathan, 27, Christopher, 25, and Joshua Trull, 18, have been charged with first-degree murder. Another set of brothers, James, 22, and Neil Kirkland, 20, have been charged with aggravated battery.
The other two -- Daniel Beard, 17, and Daniel Stephan Osborne, 19 -- are cooperating with law enforcement officials. Beard pleaded guilty last month to attempted first-degree murder, and Osborne gave a statement in June and pleaded guilty to the charge of principal to attempted first-degree murder, New Smyrna police said.
'I'm really sorry'
"I knew the guys" charged in the killings, said Billy Anderson, 16, one of the Floridians who will be visiting Oakland Mills. "I'm really sorry for the families, and hope I can lend a hand."
The church's youth group funds will pay for one-third of the trip, Liebler said. The rest will be financed by a Washington-based nonprofit organization, the Restorative Justice Institute, which studies crime and its impact.
The Good Samaritan Fund, set up by Columbia community leaders, raised more than $20,000, said Anne Tiemeyer, a member of the fund's board.
Tiemeyer said the fund financed the funerals and receptions, then gave each family about $6,000. Quebeck also received that amount to help pay medical bills.
Relatives of the victims say that, beyond the money, the reaction of their community helps.
"I still get calls. I still get hugs at the grocery store. I desperately need that," said Neperud, who plans to bring 20 family members to the dedication. "In some ways, I am lucky because I now know how loved he was."
Pub Date: 9/10/98