CEDAR LAKE | Students walked from Hanover Central High School to the railroad tracks on West 133rd Avenue on Thursday, just as classmate Chloe Burks had done the day before, to pay tribute to her short life in a memorial of flowers and messages.
Burks, a 15-year-old freshman at Hanover Central, died along the tracks Wednesday afternoon when she was struck by a Norfolk Southern train. She was wearing headphones as she walked the tracks — one of her favorite things to do, her mother said — and apparently did not hear the approaching train.
The impromptu memorial gathering Thursday at the railroad crossing was understandably somber.
"You have brought knowledge to this life in which most are too blind to see," Jared Klassen, a 17-year old junior, wrote in tribute to Burks.
Skye Oswald, an 18-year-old senior, wore a green neon T-shirt to the memorial site.
"She liked neon, crazy jeans," Oswald said. "A lot of people wore bright colors for her today."
Alec Sebastian, 15, was a classmate of Burks.
"She would like it. She really would appreciate it," he said of things done to honor her life.
A huge banner was strung up in the hallway and signed by students, he said, while others decorated her locker.
For classmate Vinnie Smith, 15, it is all surreal.
"Everybody thinks it's a dream," he said of Burks' death.
Oswald said Burks and her sister were new to the school last year, but Oswald and Burks had talked about "metal music," something they both appreciated.
Hanover Central High School Principal Justin Biggs said he opened Thursday's school day in the gym, where he talked about dealing with the tragic loss of a classmate and friend.
Then, counselors, pastors and chaplains met in small group sessions in the school's courtyard.
"I wanted to make the day as normal as possible. Preserving normalcy is therapeutic," Biggs said.
He said he was proud of the student body and how students handled the tragedy. "They are respectful. Resilient," he said. "They're a great bunch of kids."