Communities tied together by tragedies two decades apart walked in near silence Saturday morning near Niskayuna High School.
“We’re all coming together to support one another,” said Heather Rizzi, who organized the Movement of Silence, a brief walk/run/ride to raise funds for a memorial scholarship in honor of Chris Stewart and Deanna Rivers, two Shenendehowa High School students who died in a car accident on Dec. 1.
About 20 years ago, the Niskayuna community suffered its own loss, when 16-year-old Jeremy Mason, Rizzi’s brother, was hit and killed by a car as he crossed the intersection by the high school. That tragedy inspired Rizzi to organize this event.
More than 100 people turned out, including Stewart’s football teammates — who wore their jerseys — Stewart’s parents and Niskayuna High School students, who attached green ribbons to their school attire in recognition of Shenendehowa’s school color.
Michael Stewart, Chris’s father, said the occasion joined a growing list of special days in the wake of his son’s death.
“To see everybody out on a nice, cold, crisp morning definitely means a lot to us, and we really do appreciate it,” he said, wearing a Shenendehowa home green football jersey with his son’s number 69. His wife, Regina, wore a Shenendehowa away white football jersey with the same number.
The procession, which was held in almost complete silence, began on the school grounds as a somber march. After a few dozen yards, some people broke from the pack and ran ahead. A handful of people on bicycles traveled at their own pace, moving ahead and behind the groups at times.
The walk moved through the surrounding neighborhoods, where a sprinkling of people lined up by their driveways to watch in silence. One house even displayed a sign: “Peace be with Shen.”
Throughout it all, the mood was somber, with tears visible and some light chatter, including a conversation about the Twitter account of Bailey Wind, who survived the accident and was Chris Stewart’s girlfriend. The other survivor of the accident was Matt Hardy, who was dating Deanna Rivers. The two couples had been out on a double date the night of the accident, which occurred on the Northway near the Twin Bridges, where they were hit by another vehicle.
Before looping back onto the high school’s property, the group passed a picture of Mason in a wreath by the crosswalk where he died.
Once the walk was over, it was announced that about $3,400 had been raised from the event for scholarships in the name of Stewart and Rivers.
Rizzi said that 20 years after her brother died, his name and memory still lives on through his scholarship.
“I want to keep Christopher and Deanna’s names alive,” she said.
Michael Stewart was appreciative of her efforts and the sentiment, but noted that Stewart and Rivers already seemed to have left their mark on the community.
“I think it’s going to be a pretty easy thing to do,” he said of keeping their memories alive, “from what we’ve heard the past few weeks about these two great kids.”
The plan for the scholarships is to award them to students who embody the personal traits and characteristics of Rivers and Stewart.
Rizzi said her experience taught her the families involved in this latest tragedy will need support well into the future.
“I so appreciate all of you coming out this morning,” she said to the crowd. “It does not end today. It does not end tomorrow, next week, or a year from now for the families affected by this tragedy.”
Rizzi added that it is her hope to make the walk/run/ride into an annual event. This first event was hosted by HRRT Bike Club and local bike and ski shop Plaine and Son, of which Rizzi is the founder and manager.