The Grim Reaper roamed the halls of El Campo High School Thursday claiming a teenager every 15 minutes as part of the Shattered Dreams program.
Twenty-two students volunteered to “die,” and although they knew “Death” would visit their classroom, it was still a shock to see a hooded figure dressed in black and carrying a scythe at the door.
Death tapped each student on the shoulder and each one followed the ghostly figure out of class without a word.
Kalyn Jones and Bethani Gold were the first two students “taken” by Death.
“All of the senior Student Council members were asked to be a part of this, and I felt that it’s important that everyone in our high school and our senior class understands the importance of what it means to drink and drive,” Jones said.
“I think a lot of our students participate in that, and they need to see the effect that it can have on their fellow students and friends,” she added.
Gold said despite the fact that her peers like to “go out and party,” they need to be aware of what could happen if they drink and drive.
“It was weird (to be taken out of class) because some of my close friends are in there, and they didn’t know what was happening. For them they saw that it can happen to anyone at any time. It makes you shake.”
After each student would depart, Wharton County Sheriff Shannon Srubar would read his or her obituary out loud to the class. Their obituaries were also read over the school intercom.
Shattered Dreams is intended to have a powerful impact and make teenagers aware of the dangers associated with drinking and driving. The 15-minute intervals served as a reminder that every 15 minutes drinking and driving kills someone nationwide.
For some, the program really hit home, especially for Sheryl Thonsgaard, who watched the simulation of an accident caused by teenage drunk driving acted out by ECHS students earlier that morning on the Ricebird football field.
Thonsgaard lost a niece to a drunk driver in 2009.
“This was very difficult to watch,” Thonsgaard said. “I hope the message that the kids who watched this get is no drinking and driving period. Have a designated driver. It’s not that difficult to do.”
Jones felt the enactment had a deep effect on her classmates.
“It has an impact when you see the real-life effects that it can have on our friends, like seeing the prom queen laying on the ground dead,” Jones said.
“It breaks your heart to know that anything can happen,” Gold said.
Srubar said education and enforcement are the two key components in tackling the problem of underage drinking and driving.
“During this program, it was absolutely quiet in the entire stands,” Srubar said of the high school student body who watched the simulated car accident. “I think each student in the stands got something out of this.”
He hopes the program touches multiple students and encourages them to make the right decision regarding drinking and driving.
“They have done a great job,” Srubar said of Pam Hunt, faculty organizer, and her many staff and student volunteers.
“We believe in educating kids so they know the laws to be able to take care of what they are supposed to,” he added. “We try to help them as much as we can, but they have to understand that when they decide to make those decisions, punishment can follow.”
Friday’s mock memorial in the high school auditorium was no less sombre as a packed house listened to guest speakers that shared a stage with a casket that represented a fellow student “killed” in a drunk driving accident. Parents of those “taken” dabbed their eyes with tissues and watched their child’s pictures in a slideshow while listening to a pre-recorded, personalized address from their son or daughter who said things like, “I’m sorry to put you through this” and “I am sorry you will not see me graduate.”
A guest speaker Matthew Hickey, convicted of and serving time for two counts of intoxication assault and one count of intoxication manslaughter, told the students assembled what it is like to live day to day in a prison cell with mistakes he made in 2012.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. Everyone makes bad decisions, but don’t make life-altering bad decisions,” Hickey said.
All 22 student volunteers experienced a tearful reunion with their parents after staying a night at the Baptist encampment in Palacios.
“This presentation of Shattered Dreams is something we needed in this community and in this school,” said ECHS Principal Demetric Wells.