One hand touched the wooden cross, then another. Soon, about 250 Mounds View High School students were linked to the two crosses and each other in a human chain, connected by their pain over the death of two classmates.
Bridget Giere and Stephanie Carlson, each 16, died in a car crash Thursday morning at the intersection of Hwy. 96 and Old Hwy. 10. The two juniors were killed, and a third was injured, when their car was struck by another vehicle as they made a left turn on their way to school.
Tearful students, some wearing the green of the Mounds View Mustangs, surrounded the crosses Monday at the crash site. They exited district school buses at 2:20 p.m. and walked in groups from North Heights Lutheran Church to the memorial site. Officers from the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office blocked the intersection of the crash for more than 30 minutes.
“It was powerful and moving,” said Principal Jeff Ridlehoover, wearing a pin picturing the students. “None of it was orchestrated. It was just the kids.”
There was no grand speech for the girls, only silence as classmates lined up to pay their respects — dropping daisies and teddy bears around the upright crosses. A photo of the two girls standing side-by-side was placed nearby.
With eyes red and faces solemn, the students held the silence until they boarded buses to return to school.
“It’s been a difficult few days, not a whole lot of closure,” junior Paige Leiser, 16, said at the site. “We are all Mustangs.”
Students from Irondale High School, another district high school, and St. Agnes High School, which Stephanie attended before moving to Mounds View, arrived to join the group.
The Trader Joe’s in Shoreview donated crates of flowers for students to place at the memorial.
Over the weekend, students lit lanterns for their classmates, attended church services and gathered to grieve. Posters with pictures of the two girls now hang at the high school.
Laura Fixsen of Shoreview, who has three children who attend the high school, arrived at the memorial Monday right off a plane from Los Angeles. She said it was her first stop home after consoling her children via phone over the weekend about the death of their friends.
“It’s rocked most of these kids to the core,” Fixsen said. “ It’s a great loss. It’s amazing to see these kids come together to be able to grieve.”
Giere and Carlson were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash. Samantha Redden, another student in the car, remains in stable condition. Friends report that she is now able to talk.
The three students often rode to school together. Giere was a third-year Mounds View tennis player and had just started a job at Target. Redden and Giere rode to tennis practice together.
“On the court and off the court, they were the best of friends,” said Mounds View tennis coach Mike Cartwright.”
It was Carlson’s first year at Mounds View. She previously attended St. Agnes High School in St. Paul. Carlson, like Giere, was athletic. She ran track at St. Agnes and was looking forward to joining the Mounds View team this spring. She worked part-time at the Golden Living Center-Lake Ridge, a nursing facility in Roseville.
“She was a really happy, outgoing and nice to everyone,” Mickey Tesfay, a 16-year-old St. Agnes junior, said of Carlson.
A total of three crosses, including two large ones made of cedar that came from an anonymous donor, stand as stark reminders of the tragedy at a spot many students pass daily on their way to school.
A visitation for Carlson will be Tuesday at the Church of St. Charles Borromeo, 2739 Stinson Blvd., Minneapolis, at 4 p.m. A mass of Christian burial will take place on Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the same church.
Visitation for Giere was held Monday afternoon. On Tuesday, Giere’s family will hold a visitation at 9:30 a.m. followed by a funeral service at 11 a.m. at Incarnation Lutheran Church, at 4880 Hodgson Road in Shoreview.