EL RENO — As large snowflakes slowly drifted in the March night air outside the Jenks Simmons Fieldhouse on Wednesday night, a community gathered in warmth to remember two students and one teacher who passed away.
A microphone was passed from person-to-person across the wood gym floor in El Reno as students recited hand-written notes of remembrance to the crowd. Soft music played as the crowd held up cellphone lights as a form of tribute.
The vigil, organized by the El Reno High School student council, served as the somber rallying point for a community reeling from the deaths of two students, Jesse Gorbet and Karson Baker, after a two-vehicle accident on Sunday. It also paid tribute to Susan Veekner, a longtime foreign language teacher at the school, who died Tuesday from injuries resulting from a vehicle accident in January.
Hundreds in attendance honored Gorbet and Baker — sophomore student athletes whose classmates described as “special people” and “great guys.”
El Reno sophomore Josh Castrop was a passenger in the pickup who survived. He spoke at length about Gorbet, his best friend, and Baker, his lifelong neighbor.
“They were special people in my life,” Castrop said.
“They were special people in everyone’s. It’s just tough to see them go.”
Gorbet, 16, was a starting varsity wrestler known among his teammates as a lighthearted jokester who often boasted about his chiseled physique.
Lee Green, a senior wrestler, smiled while reminiscing about his friend.
“If we were walking somewhere, he was always walking all big and buff,” Green said. “He was just a great guy, always a smile on his face. He was always there for me.”
Baker, 15, was a quarterback on the El Reno football team. But the school’s principal, Pat Litiker, said he was much more than just an athlete.
“Just a good kid, I knew (Baker) was God-centered,” Litiker said.
“He had a great respect for his friends. Everybody liked him.”
Classes resumed Wednesday after the week began with consecutive snow cancellation days. Dozens of counselors were available to students and faculty as the school reassembled for the first time since the accident. Litiker said Wednesday marked the first step toward a long recovery process for the entire community.
“We got by the first day-to-day, which was tough,” Liticker said.
“I anticipate tomorrow might be a little easier ...The good positive for us is that Thursday and Friday, we’re going to have area basketball tournaments...to go cheer and do something normal, to laugh and have fun, I think that’s something we all need right now.”