There’s one fewer soprano in the chorus class at Caroline High School.
It’s the voice of Ciera Moore, who was mourned by friends and family Tuesday night at a candlelight celebration. The 14-year-old took her own life Oct. 21, said Caroline Sheriff Tony Lippa.
The vigil came a week after one for another Caroline High student, Thomas Wendell Wheeler II, 15, who died Oct. 15 after collapsing in gym class.
Moore’s funeral was held Sunday, and Tuesday’s event at the high school gave the community a chance to mourn.
After being led in prayer from a local pastor, two of Ciera’s friends from chorus class sang the song, “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry, in Ciera’s honor.
Then a stream of friends and family members reflected on memories of Ciera.
The description of Ciera from almost every person who spoke was similar: a smart, beautiful, happy girl with a big smile.
Many said they didn’t know that anything was wrong.
Another message was clear from several speakers: They wish it had not happened and don’t want it to happen to anyone else.
One of Ciera’s cousins, who graduated high school in 1999, said times have changed since she was in school. She encouraged the students in the audience that if they “see things going on, speak up, talk about it, look out for one another.”
Ciera’s father, Gary Rollins, who raised her since she was 3 weeks old, said Ciera was going through some hard times at home because of her parents’ health, but that she always took care of them. “This young child had a lot on her plate and she got tired of it,” he told the audience. “Don’t do what she did!”
He and other members of Ciera’s family wore black shirts with what he said was their favorite photo of Ciera. On the back it read: “Daughter, in loving memory of Ciera L. Moore. You’ll be missed but never forgotten.”
Others talked about Ciera in happier times.
One girl said that every day when she got to class, Ciera ran and gave her a big, welcoming hug. “I really miss that,” she said.
Another friend said his dad and Ciera’s dad were friends, and he called Ciera his “little hunting buddy.”
A friend from church said she knew Ciera since they were 4 years old, and they would always sit in the front pew at church together and get in trouble.
Caroline High Principal Jeff Wick also spoke. He said his memory of her is a young lady who was always smiling, who was kind, focused and seeking to fulfill her goals.
He said people come to him for answers, and a lot of the time he can give them an answer. But this time is different.
After the reflections, Ciera’s friends and family formed a circle outside the school and lit candles in her memory.
Right after Ciera’s death, Lippa released a statement to the press and through social media that said that there was no evidence of bullying or foul play. He also said that the death was still under investigation.
But many people responded to Lippa—through Facebook comments—that they disagreed.
So he released a second statement on Facebook that said, in part, “circumstances surrounding Ciera Moore’s death are still under investigation. However, with regards to the claims of bullying, what we need is actual knowledge, times, persons involved, etc. We cannot build a case on hearsay.”
He said people with information on any bullying of Moore or any other student should call his office.
The Sheriff’s Office said they have only received a few calls.
Schools Superintendent Greg Killough said, “We have been following up on all the leads we have been given.”
He said the school system has been gathering information and cooperating with the Sheriff’s Office.
TALKING TO STUDENTS
Last Friday, local pastors and representatives from the Caroline County Sheriff’s Office held assemblies with the ninth-grade students to discuss bullying.
Maj. Scott Moser said that they met with three groups of 100 students each to explain the definition of bullying and show examples.
“We explained to them that parts of the community have united so they can have a safe learning environment without the influence of bullying,” he said.
He said part of the reason for the assemblies was to reconfirm for the students that there is a zero tolerance policy for bullying and to tell them that there is support available if they feel they are being bullied.
“We encouraged them to let someone know if they are being bullied—a counselor, principal, teacher, school resource officer, pastor—if this happens so we can help them,” he said.
The pastors had a more personal message for the students.
“The pastors represented the fact that they are very precious and that they are very important, each one of them is so very important in this world today,” Moser said.
HOW PARENTS CAN HELP
Rituals, such as candlelight vigils, are an important part of the grieving process says Sharon Killian, the clinical services director for the Rappahannock Area Community Service Board.
“People need rituals. That’s a way they can feel that there is closure,” she said.
She said the teens will take on the feelings of those around them and take cues from adults and other role models.
Having school personnel reach out to them is key, Killian said. They can turn to each other for comfort during the grieving process as well.
It helps them to hear that it’s OK to cry and be sad some days, she said.
At home, parents can talk to their children about the situation and support them.
Killian noted that parents can talk about what are rumors and what is fact, and set aside the hysteria.
When discussing a youth’s suicide, parents should say how sad and tragic it is that someone would feel so unhappy that they would choose to take their own life, Killian said.
She said that while they may not know why someone took his or her own life, they can tell the child that they do not want it to keep happening.
There are things that parents should look for to make sure their own kids are not struggling.
She said parents can look for markers—a change in grades, irritability, if they are withdrawn, secretive, pouty and changes in activities, friends, for example.
Another sign is a quick change in behavior.
“A lot of times someone has been depressed and struggling and then there is a peacefulness—they are at peace with their decision,” Killian said.
“Usually you’ll see someone go from angst and depression to peaceful and calm.”
RACSB has resources available for those in need.
Emergency services therapists are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to help individuals experiencing a mental health crisis obtain the necessary care.
More information can be found at RACSB’s website, racsb.state.va.us.
Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413
PRAYER CIRCLE ESTABLISHED AFTER DEATHS
Four Caroline County Pastors have organized a prayer circle in response to the two recent teen deaths at Caroline High School. “Basically, it’s a call to prayer for all of our churches to come together in unity to pray for the families who have lost children but also to pray for healing in our community to pray for our schools, teachers administrators and students. It is really a call to come together. And we feel like the opportunity just presented itself to do that,” said Pastor Greg Webber, of Bowling Green Baptist Church.
It will literally be a circle of people holding hands, surrounding Caroline High School and praying. It will be at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at the high school, 19155 Rogers Clark Blvd., in Milford.