The president of Maine Maritime Academy said his college and the surrounding Castine community were grieving Sunday, the day after four students died in a crash just off campus.
The mood at the small seaside school was somber as several hundred students, faculty and others gathered outside Leavitt Hall on Sunday evening to hold a candlelight vigil. There the crowd remembered Brian Kenealy, 20, of York; Chase Fossett, 21, of Gardiner; Luke Simpson, 22, of Rockport, Massachusetts; and Riley Ignacio-Cameron, 20, of Aquinnah, Massachusetts.
All four died when a Range Rover driven by a classmate went off the road close to the Castine school and then burst into flames. The tragic crash rocked the small maritime school and its surrounding community.
“We are in a great state of pain,” Jerry Paul, the school’s president, said after speaking with all four of the dead students’ families. “We are working our way through it. We’ve begun our way through, but we have a long, long way to go.”
Paul told the crowd of mourners some details about each of the students who died.
Fossett was an international business and logistics major who, on Thanksgiving, had told his family that his friends and the staff at Maine Maritime were who had made the most impact on him in the past year.
Simpson, a vessel operations and technology major, had a natural aptitude in the field.
Ignacio-Cameron, also a vessel operations and technology major, was a proud member of the Wampanoag tribe and recently transferred to Maine Maritime.
Kenealy, a marine transportation operations major, was a member of the men’s soccer team and wanted to work at sea like his father, who is currently sailing abroad.
To deal with the immense grief, the school has doubled the number of professional counselors on campus to help students. Throughout Sunday, Paul went to the school’s dormitories and dining hall to check in on how the students, who were poised to start their finals on Monday, were doing.
The cadets remaining on campus, many of whom fought back tears at the vigil, were leaning on each other for support, and there was a gathering of about 150 students on Saturday night to help them process the sudden death of the four men.
Paul, provost Keith Williamson and a local minister spoke at the vigil. There were no student speakers.
Castine is a small community of about 800 people. The academy is about the same size, with approximately 1,000 students. Several local religious congregations offered their support to the school and students, and several members of the community had reached out with their condolences.
The local fire department, whose headquarters is on the opposite side of the street from the school’s football field, also has a large contingent of Maine Maritime students in its ranks. Some of the firefighters who were first at the crash scene were classmates, Paul said.
“[Chief Randy Stearns] did a wonderful job of being sensitive to the fact that some of his own team members are students, their colleagues, their shipmates, their fellow mariners,” Paul said.
Special councilors were brought in to deal with the potential trauma the fire department had experienced due to the crash, which Maine State Police is still investigating.
Paul said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the crash, including where the students were coming from, and deferred all questions on the crash to state police. Police’s initial investigation found that Joshua Goncalves-Radding, 20, another cadet from North Babylon, New York, was traveling south on Route 166 when he drove off the road.
Goncalves-Radding and two other students in the vehicle were injured.
Stearns declined to comment on his department’s response, only saying that it was a “horrific” crash.
Several students said there was an overall feeling of sadness on campus and they expected, after school officials announced the upcoming final examinations would be put off, most students would go home soon after the vigil.
Many vehicles were pulled up in front of dorms Sunday afternoon, and students were packing their rooms up for the end of the semester.
Paul, an alumni of the academy who became Maine Maritime’s president earlier this year, said he had been trying to lend a listening ear to students and reminded them that they don’t need to process their grief by themselves.
“I encouraged them to reach out to those professional services,” he said. “I tell each and every one of them: ‘Don’t try to go this alone. You do this as a team.’ That’s how we mariners do everything.”
Correction: A previous version of this report misidentified Brian Kenealy’s major.