In the wake of tragedy, Magruder celebrates its graduates and prepares to move forward
Younger sister of senior Haeley McGuire accepts diploma for her sibling
When Principal Lee Evans issued Haeley McGuire's high school diploma at commencement Tuesday, it marked the third time he has awarded one posthumously.
"She's earned it," Evans said about McGuire, who was killed May 15 in an early morning car crash along with two others, Col. Zadok Magruder High School alumni Spencer Datt and John Hoover.
The school community needs to move forward, Evans said five days before Magruder students accepted their diplomas.
Graduation events went on as planned, culminating Tuesday morning at DAR Constitution Hall, where some graduates wore classmate McGuire's senior portrait on their caps.
McGuire's family had planned to attend commencement to watch as Juliette McGuire, a student at Redland Middle School, took her older sister's place in the ceremony and accept Haeley's diploma on her behalf, Evans said.
In the span of three days in the week following the crash, Evans attended the funerals of McGuire, Datt and Hoover. As a principal, taking care of the student body in the wake of the death of one of their own is not anticipated or embraced, but necessary when it occurs.
"I know it's there, I know I?have to do it and I expect every principal in the system feels the same," he said last week. "This is the job I've chosen and I fully embrace it."
McGuire, Datt and Hoover were killed when the 2007 Toyota Corolla driven by 20-year-old Magruder alumnus Kevin Coffay crashed into a telephone pole and two trees on Olney-Laytonsville Road.
The sole surviving passenger, Charles Nardella, suffered injuries that were not life-threatening, as did Coffay, who was arrested on four counts of hit and run and one count of evading a police officer on foot. He is under house arrest after posting $50,000 of his court-issued $500,000 bail.
The results of a blood test performed on Coffay were not released by Tuesday afternoon.
Police officers said they smelled alcohol on him three hours after the crash.
Contrary to the concerns residents, police and fire officials have over the safety of the road where the crash occurred, a preliminary investigation by State Highway Administration traffic engineers showed the road, signs and traffic signals appeared in working order, said State Highway Administration spokesman Charlie Gischlar.
Following the deaths of McGuire, Datt and Hoover, comments have been posted on the Internet saying Magruder High School is cursed because of the tragedies it has had.
On Facebook, a group called "RIP Magruder Loves You" lists 35 names of Magruder students, alumni and staff who have died in recent years.
The Facebook group's description reads: "Magruder seems to have the worst luck in the world. It's a curse."
Evans said "curse" is an unfair and insensitive label.
"The curse misrepresents what we're dealing with here. It's realistic to say we've gone through a great deal, but the reality of it is, how do you control fate?" Evans said. "We try to do our best to keep things from happening, especially with children."
Within five years, the school lost two of its coaches, Ed Ashwell and Scott Alexander, who died of a heart attack and a brain tumor, in 2006 and 2007, respectively.
In 2005, while in his office, Assistant Principal Kevin McLean had a stroke and later died in an area hospital.
Last year, Magruder 2008 alumnus Darius Ray was stabbed to death at his 20th birthday party, while in 2008, 2007 alumni Nicole Lee and Chris Galecki were killed within seven months of one another in separate car accidents, officials said.
"Death and tragedy does not discriminate. Now, is there a limit on how frequently they can occur? There is no control," Evans said. "Only through faith can you come to understand this."
Evans said that what sets Magruder's student body apart from others in the county is its diversity and discipline.
"What makes us special is that the students here come from different backgrounds, but they come together in different ways," he said May 26. "The vast majority every day do exactly as we say. We don't spend nearly as much time applauding what they do."
While commending his students, Evans commended their parents, the school's staff and the PTSA.
The feeling seems to be mutual.
"Mr. Evans has done an excellent job of dealing with this situation and other similar situations in the past," PTSA President Linda Kuserk said in an email to The Gazette. "The school has had counselors in place to support the students and has provided information and resources for parents to help their students through the grieving process."
Evans said he wants the community outside Derwood to recognize Magruder for the individuals it produces, not for the pain some see it as debilitating.
"[Our students'] genuineness is sometimes just overwhelming. They're so wonderful," Evans said last week. "They make the sun rise in the morning."