At first, the only real sounds were a few muted murmurs and the crunch of footsteps. They came from running shoes, hiking boots, work boots, sandals — the varied footware of a congregation as diverse as the community, coming together this evening for a shared purpose with shared emotions.
Word had spread that there would be a gathering at Mountain Lion stadium to grieve the loss and honor the memory of Kierra Reichert, a 2022 Liberty Bell High School graduate who died in an automobile accident earlier that week at age 19. We knew her in many ways. Kierra shone in every aspect of her life — as a student, gifted athlete and passionate equestrian, among other things.
People began showing up before the announced 8 p.m. start time. Some walked out onto the football field, where folding tables were set up with photos of Kierra, along with pens, card-making materials, flowers, candles — and tissues. Silent clusters formed on the field; out at the 50-yard line, a single person sat alone.
Many others stayed in the fenced area next to the track, as though it might be intrusive to venture any farther. A few got only as far as the parking lot. The distance didn’t matter. What mattered is that we were there, together.
Many, no doubt, were uncertain how to appropriately respond. Perhaps we didn’t know Kierra personally; perhaps we weren’t sure what would be of most comfort to her family, if anything can be a comfort at times like this. There was no program, no speakers, no expectations. At first it was just those hushed exchanges which, before long gave way to emotional interactions — unabashed, public, sometimes raw. When Kierra’s family arrived they were greeted with tears, fierce hugs and heartfelt condolences. A ragged circle formed on the track in front of the field, enfolding the Reichert family in the middle. The collective grief was palpable, as was the compassion.
There was also occasional laughter, because in such moments we remember things that make us laugh, to remind us of the presence of joy even in the absence of loved ones.
It was sad gathering, difficult and cathartic. It was also remarkable and wonderful, a spontaneous outpouring of love, support, care and generosity.
In our most challenging moments, this is what community looks like.
However many times our community has to deal with the sudden loss of young people is too many. But it happens, and when it does it’s the newspaper’s responsibility to report the news accurately and honor those we have lost with sensitivity.
In the accident that claimed Kierra’s life, the fates of three other young people were forever altered. Kierra’s 2022 classmate, Caitlyn Cooley, was in a Seattle hospital recovering from surgery after suffering serious injuries. Two young men — county residents whose names had not been provided to us by the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office as of Tuesday— were among the four occupants of the car. One, the driver, also suffered severe injuries. The other, a passenger, was apparently unharmed.
We don’t cover these events from a disinterested remove. We’re part of the community and are affected by anything that ripples through it. Our relationship with the newspaper’s readership is often intimate and personal as well as professional.
Nobody in this business ever wishes for a tragedy to occur. When it does, we react like everyone else — with shock, sorrow and empathy. Then we marshal our resources and apply our best practices to report accurately and get information out in the most-timely way possible. For a weekly newspaper, that means posting stories online.
We were cautious last week about putting a story about the fatal accident up on our Facebook page until we had information we could verify, from official sources or reliable people in the community. At that, there were some details we had to correct or update. We did not allow commenting on our posts, as our experience is that those can be the source of misinformation, unfounded rumor and unsupported assertions — as well as just plain meanness. None of that is valuable to the community’s interactions.
Thanks to everyone who has helped us out with our coverage. Putting this publication together every week is a community effort, and we could not do it without your support.