There were plenty of tears at Thursday night’s vigil for three Staunton girls who were killed last week in an multivehicle crash — but there was a lot of laughter, too.
At least 250 people gathered at Staunton’s St. Paul United Church of Christ in memorial of Hailey Bertels, Madisen Bertels, and Tori Carroll. Hailey and Tori graduated from Staunton High School in 2015, and Madisen was a senior there.
Nearly 20 people shared their memories of the girls, many recalling amusing stories of the three friends.
Hailey and Madisen’s father, Dean Bartels, shared a story about a float trip gone awry. A friend told the tale of when they all toilet-papered the house of one of their teachers, resulting in one of the girls being hit in the leg with a BB.
Taylor Mitchell, a good friend of Madisen’s, said she was invited to join the girls on the night they went to Edwardsville. Instead, she stayed behind.
“I feel like I cheated death,” Mitchell said. She recalled when she and Madisen once went swimming in a lake. As they walked in the water, Madisen said if Taylor died, she would die, too, so they could be together.
“I feel like I left her. I know it’s not my fault ... but I feel like I wasn’t a true friend because I wasn’t with her that night,” she said through tears.
Another girl who said she knew Hailey and Tori from Murray State, which they both attended, said she wanted the families to know that “so many people from everywhere loved your children so much.”
“People from all the country are praying for you and thinking of you,” she said.
One of Hailey and Madisen’s cousin said the two were like sisters to him.
“To see this small town come together is one of the craziest things I’ve seen in my life,” he said. “From my heart, I want to thank the town. Thank you for everything.”
Just before the crowd, which overflowed out of the pews into the hallway, lit candles in memory of the girls, the church’s pastor shared a poem.
“A candle flickers out of light, but in your heart, I still burn bright,” Rev. Debbie Jo Atkins read.
Slowly, the flame made its way around the room until more than 200 candles were burning in the small church.
Tori Carroll, who died Thursday, was critically injured when a semitrailer driven by a 53-year-old Colorado man crashed into seven vehicles on Interstate 55 on Nov. 21. She was a passenger in a vehicle with the Bertels sisters, who died the day of the crash.