Tuesday, November 03, 2015

TOP STORY >> Community mourns fatalities

Leader staff writer

More than 1,000 people crowded into Cabot High School’s auditorium Monday night to come together in grief over two students and two graduates killed Halloween night in a tragic one-vehicle accident.

Adults and kids alike shed tears and formed prayer huddles to mourn Alexandria Simpkins, 20; Codi Rice, 19; Brooke Butler, 15, and Sydney Shumate, 16.

According to a State Police report, at 10:40 p.m. Saturday, Simpkins was driving a 2012 Jeep south on Gravel Hill Road a half-mile north of Hwy. 31 in White County.

She ran off the edge of the road and overcorrected. The Jeep turned counter-clockwise in the road and hit a guardrail. It left the road, overturned and hit a tree.

The weather was foggy and the road was wet.

Assistant Principal Alana Graham said she knew Codi and Sydney well.

She told The Leader, “Codi was full of life. She enjoyed everything that she could get her hands in...She loved every kid on this campus. You could see the joy and love in her eyes everyday.”

Codi loved the theater and dance, Graham said. She added that the young woman tried hard in class, too.

Beebe Superintendent Belinda Shook also spoke to The Leader about Codi because she worked with that district’s pre-K kids.

Shook said Codi’s supervisor told her the children loved Codi, who was a great employee and got along with the other staff. The supervisor also told the superintendent Codi was “an all-around sweet kid.”

Shook said the Beebe School District was going to miss her and had heavy hearts for the families of all the girls. She said that community would be praying and thinking of them.

Graham called Sydney a beautiful young lady and said she always wore bright colors. “She stood out in a crowd,” the assistant principal continued. “She always made people feel like they belonged...no matter who they were.”

Although Graham said she saw this week how much the other students missed Brook’s presence. “She was always positive, smiling. She made the classroom a fun atmosphere.”

The assistant principal said she didn’t know Alexandria (Lexy) well enough to tell The Leader about her. But a comment posted yesterday on the young woman’s Facebook page is revealing.

One friend wrote, “Can hear your little giggle right now. You were such a sweet girl...My heart hurts for all of the lives that were touched by this tragic accident, but may your sweet spirit live on Lexy.”

Terena Woodruff, director of counseling for Cabot High School, added that all of the young ladies were “known for being outgoing. Everyone was drawn to them.”

She also offered some advice to those who are grieving now.

Woodruff said parents should listen to their children, answer questions as best they can, acknowledge grief and realize that everyone handles a tragic loss like this differently.

One of the questions the counselor has heard from students is why did this happen. It’s a question no one can answer, Woodruff said.

They should do all they can to make sure they, along with their children, don’t get stuck in one stage of grieving either, the counselor continued.

Adults should model how to grieve in healthy ways, Woodruff noted.

She also suggests they help the teens focus on their own life goals and watch for changes in behavior that could indicate their child needs additional help with coping.

Woodruff said those who are mourning the girls should focus on happy memories and how they can live their lives in a way that honor Lexy, Codi, Brooke and Sydney.

Asst. Principal Graham added, “As a school district, we have really pulled together.”

She said there were counselors and administrators in the classes each of the two girls who were students attended.

There were also counselors in the library, available for those who needed them.

“I really feel like the students felt the love and support from us,” Graham said, noting that Monday was a somber day, as was Tuesday, but “we got through it.”

The school is trying to get the kids back into their routines moving forward, she noted. Graham also said, “It’s so important that our community and school district pulls together.”

She called Monday night’s service, hosted by New Life Church, a “moving tribute” that showed this had happened, that students, faculty, staff, parents and community members have come together to help each other through this difficult time.

Part of the official statement posted on the school district’s website Sunday and signed by Superintendent Tony Thurman reads, “This is a difficult time for our district and it will be an extremely emotional week for our students. We will be providing support and extra counselors will be available as long as needed. Please keep the families involved, students, staff, and the Cabot community in your thoughts and prayers.”

The community is not only received support from each other, but sympathy from outside its limits as well.

Codi was a freshman liberal arts major at Arkansas State University-Beebe and Lexy had recently transferred from there to a four-year college, according to Nancy Meador, director of publications and marketing.

ASU-Beebe’s statement reads, “Our hearts go out to the families, friends and classmates of these students. On behalf of the entire ASU-Beebe campus community, we extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Codi and Lexy. We also extend our condolences to our friends at Cabot High School, where all four students were current or former students.

“Counseling services are available to anyone touched by this tragedy. Please contact the Student Success Center at 501-882-8906 or stop by the offices located on the second floor of the student center.”

Meador knew Codi because her son went to school with the young lady.

The marketing director added that Codi was “very vibrant and bright” young lady, who would be noticed in a room and was “pretty inside and outside.”

The Batesville School District also extended its sympathies to Cabot, sending flowers to the high school on Monday.

Two high school football players from there died in an Oct. 26 car crash.

Also, notes that the young ladies’ families are in prayers and thoughts have been posted to the district’s Facebook page by individuals who say they’re from all over the state, country and world.