UM Pastors Respond to Communities Dealing With Shock, Grief

May 15, 2008

The United Methodist Connection was at work this week after unspeakable tragedy struck the communities of Chester and Willows, California. The Rev. Norma Jean Powell, pastor of Chester United Methodist Church, organized the Lassen-Lake Almanor Ministerial Association to conduct a candlelight vigil for Chester High School senior Jenny Carrigan – who, along with her date, Steven Furtado of Willows High School, was killed on prom night Saturday (May 10), allegedly murdered by her former boyfriend. The two 18-year-olds died of multiple stab wounds.


18-year-old Reyes Carrillo-Garcia is being held without bail, charged with two counts of homicide.


Compounding the tragedy, the following day Jenny's brother was fatally injured in a one-vehicle accident while rushing home from college in Berkeley to respond to the family crisis. 20-year-old Billy Carrigan was approximately 35 miles from home when his vehicle left the road and struck several trees.


The candlelight vigil Monday, May 12 was held on the grounds of the Collins Pine Company – a huge, beautiful expanse of lawn fronting Main Street and "the only place in town big enough" to contain the mourners, Powell says. In this town of 2300 an estimated 350 people attended, including people who did not know any of those involved in the tragedy.


"The idea came from the youth group kids. They wanted to do something Sunday night and we decided it wasn't really appropriate [to do then], so we moved it. On Monday I spoke to a couple of other pastors in town – and it was almost spontaneous: we called the pastors and called the school and left a message, and it got announced at school and it just spread."


There were "many, many" offers of help, Powell says, from the hardware store offering to donate candles to people volunteering to haul chairs for the gathering in their cars.


The service was a means for fellow students and other community members to come together to mourn, share their memories, and pray together. Opening the service, Powell said, "This is an evening when we have come together to celebrate the beauty of Jenny," (shown at right) who was, she says, extremely well-liked – an accomplished athlete and musician and head of the high school cheer squad. Some members of the Chester UMC youth group were her cheer or softball teammates.


Meanwhile, 116 miles to the southeast, students and the community at large in Willows were also reeling. Steven Furtado was himself an active, popular student and an academic standout. He had lettered in football, golf, and music and had met Jenny Carrigan at a band function in Sacramento. They had been seeing each other for about two months.


It was the third loss to the Class of 2008 in less than two years. In August, 2006, Brian Parks, varsity football player and son of the coach, collapsed during a pre-season practice and died of a previously undiscovered heart defect. Just last month Kayla Arnold died in a San Francisco hospital after a sudden, as yet undiagnosed illness.


"Right now we are focused on providing for the needs of our students, who once again have to deal with the grief and loss of a loved one," Steven Olmos, superintendent of Willows Unified School District, said Tuesday. "Some are able to go on with the day as normal, but others are taking it very hard." Olmos said a crisis team had been brought in to begin the process of counseling and comforting the students and staff.


Some members of the Willows Ministerial Association were also at the high school to offer their help.


"Some students are taking advantage of the grief counselors that have been made available," said Willows High School Principal Mort Geivett. "Some are huddling in small groups and comforting each other. Some came into the office and asked to go home."


Tuesday evening students conducted a spontaneous candlelight vigil on the high school grounds.


In addition to his other accomplishments, Furtado, left, had been active in the Boy Scouts of America, achieving the organization's highest rank – Eagle Scout – last year after refurbishing the pews at Willows United Methodist Church, where his troop met, for his Eagle project. He had continued to be a mentor for younger Scouts.


The Rev. Janna Adamson, Willows UMC pastor, says the Scoutmaster called to ask whether to cancel Monday night's regular meeting. She says she advised him to hold it as scheduled so that the boys would have a venue for expressing and sharing their grief, and says she attended as well to answer questions and offer comfort and counseling as needed. Adamson says the United Methodist Connection is very much at work, "supporting those who are the direct support for the family."


The memorial service for Steven is scheduled for Saturday, May 17 at 10 a.m. at Willows Memorial Hall, 525 W. Sycamore Street and in lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Steven Daniel Furtado Memorial Fund at any U.S. Bank. The service will be conducted by the youth pastor for the local Vineyard church, Adamson says.


Powell says the pastors of the Chester Assembly of God, Vineyard, and Church of Christ churches participated in the Monday night candlelight vigil there, as did the pastor of an independent church, Lake Almanor Community Church. In addition, when she called the Rev. Cynthia Stateman, pastor of Quincy UMC, to tell her what had happened, Stateman made the 90-minute drive to Chester to take part in the service as well.


"Each of us kind of gave a prayer in the beginning or reflected on the meaning of the evening, then opened it up to the kids – and for approximately an hour and a half the kids just took turns coming up and reflecting on their memories or their feelings. And then we ended in Communion," Powell says.


Balloons in Jenny's favorite color, yellow, surrounded the makeshift altar and many students laid yellow roses at the base of her photograph.


Powell says the service was meaningful. "I think it was wonderful. It drew the town together. The kids had been meeting in little clutches here and there, and there was anger because it was one of their friends who had [allegedly] committed the crime. It sort of helped draw them together – and let them know they could depend on each other."


But what struck her most about the service, she says, was, "First of all, the wisdom of the kids. They spoke … they were actually able to articulate asking for forgiveness for the boy who [allegedly] committed the crime – and to talk about hope for the future for each of them."


The pastors in Chester met again on Wednesday to formulate an offer of counseling service for students at the high school, and to discuss what help might be made available to Joanne ("Jodie") Carrigan. Jenny and Billy were her only children and she lost her husband just a few years ago. She is staying with friends at present. 


Services for Jenny and Billy Carrigan (shown at right) have been scheduled for Tuesday, May 20 at 1 p.m. at the Chester High School football field, 612 First Street, with a reception to follow in the school gymnasium. There will be a public viewing on Monday, May 19, 5-8 p.m., at Christ the King Catholic Church, at the corner of Gay and Melissa Streets. 


Seneca Healthcare District board member Mike Willhoit announced Tuesday that the Chester hospital has established the Carrigan Memorial Fund "to provide Jodie Carrigan with financial support for the myriad of expenses she is likely to encounter."


She has been employed as an accounting clerk at the hospital for nearly 10 years.


Donations should be made payable and mailed to Carrigan Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 737, Chester, CA 96020, Attention: Marie Stuersel.


In addition, Rev. Powell requests "Prayers for healing for the town."


(Parts of this story have been reprinted from with the permission of Feather Publishing Co. Inc. and parts have been reprinted from with the permission of Freedom Communications, Inc.


Photo of Steven Furtado provided by the family by way of the Glenn County Sheriff's Department. Other photos courtesy, Feather Publishing Co. Inc.)